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Opinion
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Health

Public Health Care Just Won Big in BC. Don’t Stop Now

The Cambie case is closed, at least for now. Let’s keep the wins rolling.

By Val Avery and Barb Nederpel 22 Sep 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Val Avery is president of the Health Sciences Association of BC.
Barb Nederpel is president of the Hospital Employees’ Union.

COVID-19 has brought many challenges for us as individuals, and for our families and communities. There is no doubt that we are having to rethink how we structure our work lives and personal lives to keep safe.

COVID-19 has also shone a bright light on how important our public health-care system is. And now, more than ever, British Columbians and Canadians support deep investment to ensure our public system is strong, sustainable and resilient.

When people get sick, they get help. No matter what their income, where they live, who they know. This principle of universality is the cornerstone of our public health-care system.

For the last 10 years we’ve been fighting a legal attack on our public health-care system. A court case has worked its way through B.C. Supreme Court that challenges the core principle of our public system: access to health care is based on need, not ability to pay.

Dr. Brian Day, the CEO of Cambie Surgery Centre (a for-profit, private health-care company), launched this attack in 2009. His legal challenge aimed to break medicare in Canada by striking down provincial health legislation that restricts extra-billing and private insurance for medically necessary services, claiming that these rules violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Extra-billing, sometimes called “double-dipping,” is when a doctor charges both a patient and the government for a medically necessary procedure. Right now, the laws state that a doctor must choose to practice either inside or outside the public system, but not in both.

In short, Day’s argument is: if you can pay, you should be able to jump the queue. He launched this challenge in an effort to allow private, for-profit medicine to flourish in B.C.

But the evidence has clearly shown that private, for-profit health care drains resources from the public system and leaves us with longer wait times. Creating a two-tier health-care system would mean the wealthy get the care they need fast, and the rest of us have to wait even longer. Let’s be honest, this case was about the profits to be made from people in need. It was never about providing better health care to British Columbians.

After 10 years — four of which played out in a B.C. courtroom — B.C. Supreme Court Judge John Steeves brought down his ruling last week. It was an unequivocal win for public health care.

Even though the attack was launched here in B.C., it took aim at the very heart of the Canada Health Act. This is a victory for everyone who uses health care in Canada and ensures our health-care system will continue to be based on need, not on ability to pay.

In the ruling, Steeves notes: “Further, the evidence suggests that duplicative private health care would increase demand and costs overall while also reducing capacity in the public health-care system. There is a genuine risk that both the sustainability of the universal public system and equitable access to health care would be undermined.”

Day is appealing this ruling. That’s not surprising, but it is disappointing.

Instead of heeding the ruling of Steeves and using his professional skills to advance our public health-care system, Day is forcing the government and other advocacy groups, like the BC Health Coalition and Canadian Doctors for Medicare, to waste more time and money to protect and defend the public health-care system that British Columbians and Canadians rely on every day.

We don’t need more court dates. We need to turn our attention to investing in our public system — to be innovative, creative and committed to the public solutions that will make our public system robust and resilient. The B.C. government and Health Minister Adrian Dix are already taking on this challenge, and we are seeing progress.

There is no question wait times are still too long for some procedures, and people suffer when they wait for care. But the answer is not private care for those who can afford it. The answer is improving our public health-care system that everyone can access and rely on.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruling was crystal clear. And now we need to get on with making our public health-care system the best it can be.  [Tyee]

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