Private Health Care in Ontario
The privatization of health care in Ontario is here, whether we like it or not. As Dr. Albert Schumacher, the former president of the Canadian Medical Association put it, “The situation we are seeing now are more services around not being funded publicly but people having to pay for them, or their insurance companies. We have a sort of passive privatization” (Source: CBC.ca). In Ontario, when Liberals won in 2003, they promised to shut down the provinces growing number of private clinics, but in 2006 when Conservatives won federally, that promise stalled. It seems that in Ontario, as in other provinces throughout Canada, the growth of private health care is inevitable.
But some people see the growth of the private care sector as a dangerous blight on public health care that will eventually take down the whole public health care system, thrusting Canada into a similar situation that the United States finds itself in, where the wealthiest citizens get the best care and the poorest citizens get no health care at all.
The H1N1 flu pandemic may be a case study for how the combination of public and private care will play out. Why? Because some elite, private health care clinics are offering flu vaccine to their customers, while the rest of Canada anxiously awaits access to the vaccination through their public health ministry.
In Ontario and British Columbia, two of these private clinics, Medcan and Copeman Healthcare Centre, are handing out flu vaccine to their members, and making only 20% of their vaccine stock available to the general public. The privately run Cleveland Clinic in Toronto also has flu vaccine available – if you can afford the $2,000 per year membership. Meanwhile, the public roll-out of the vaccine has been slow, messy, and disappointing, to say the least.
Mitch Finkelstein, whose family is a member of a private clinic thanks to his corporate membership, says that the poor distribution of the H1N1 vaccine proves that the public health care system is broken and private care is the better way to go. But Michael McBane, the national co-ordinator of the Canadian Coalition for Health, sees something different in private health care clinics distributing the vaccine: “The vaccine is for high-risk, not high-income… Those clinics are income-based, so they’re discriminating on the basis of income. That’s a perversion of public-health measures” (Source: TheGlobeAndMail.com).
If indeed private health care is both necessary and inevitable, perhaps Canadians should “look before they leap”, and decide what exact role they want the private sector to play in their health care delivery system.