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29 Sep Court Challenge Threatens to Open Medicare to User Fees, Unequal Access

Day-Press-Conference1-Sept-14Patients and public health care advocates call for care based on need, not ability to pay, as Dr. Brian Day and the province of British Columbia seek a settlement outside of the court

Halifax – Just before Health Minister Leo Glavine joins his provincial and territorial counterparts at the end of September, patients, public health care advocates and patients and providers are calling attention to what they’re referring to as the ‘biggest threat to public health care in a generation.” The Nova Scotia Health Coalition held a press conference Monday to call for commitment to equal access to quality health care as a legal challenge in B.C aims to overturn the constitutional ban on private-for-profit medicine. The press conference coincided with others held by health coalitions across the country.

Coming in advance of the Health Ministers’ meeting, governments, legal experts, and patient advocates are closely watching the B.C. court case, which could lead to an open season on patient user fees for surgeries, diagnostics and other procedures. It was brought by Dr. Brian Day, owner of one of the largest private clinics in Canada. Day, who was facing B.C. government audits and possible sanctions for charging hundreds of thousands of dollars in unlawful user fees to patients, launched a Charter Challenge to bring down the single-tier Medicare

“If Dr. Day is allowed to continue, physicians will be able to charge patients any amount they like for services, and patients will be treated based on ability to pay, rather than need” explains Dr. Dutt, Chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, an intervener in the case. “Doctors can only treat one person at a time, so a win for Dr. Day will mean longer wait times for everyone else. ”

Day is challenging the laws that forbid clinics like his from extra-billing patients and charging user fees for medically necessary care. The case was scheduled to begin on September 8, but lawyers for both the private clinic owner and the B.C. government asked the court for a delay in order to negotiate a settlement. Negotiations are now happening behind closed doors and the court date is delayed until March 2015.

Day’s clinic was first exposed by patients who were illegally billed by Day’s clinic. After years of efforts to look at the clinics books, Auditors got only a portion of billings on only one month’s worth of data. Auditors found that in that 30-day period, patients were subject to almost half a million dollars in illegal user charges. None of those patients have been compensated for these illegal charges.

“Though the challenge was launched in B.C., it has the potential to bring two-tier care to Canadians across the country said Steven Shrybman, legal counsel for an intervener group in the case.

The groups say that in order to defend the health care system, the BC government must hold Dr. Day accountable for these violations. Enforcing the public health care law is a critical step to protecting patients and taxpayer money and deterring future law breaking by Day and other private clinics.

“Extra user fees charged to sick and elderly patients are unlawful and immoral, and do nothing to improve our health care system. Let’s focus on real solutions to issues like long wait times that will not compromise Canadian values of equality and responsible management of public funds,” says James Hutt, Provincial Coordinator of the Nova Scotia Health Coalition.

“Let’s focus on real solutions to issues like long wait times. Across Canada, there are dozens of innovative projects that improve access, quality and cost-effectiveness, while protecting equitable access to care. Privatization costs more and delivers less – Canadians deserve better.”

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