Last week’s Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench decision to uphold the province’s ban on private health insurance for medically necessary services is good news for Alberta, and for all Canadians.
The court was not persuaded that wait times in Alberta are linked to the province’s ban on private insurance that duplicates what is covered under Medicare.
A similar, much broader, constitutional challenge to Medicare is scheduled to go to trial in BC Supreme Court this September. The case is driven by Dr. Brian Day, owner of the Vancouver-based Cambie Surgery Centre, a for-profit surgical clinic known for unlawfully billing patients for health care services.
Dr. Day is seeking to strike down BC’s rules that protect fair and equal access to care by prohibiting doctors from charging patients extra for services already covered under our provincial insurance plan. He’s also taking aim at BC’s ban on duplicate private health insurance.
If Dr. Day wins in B.C., those laws will inevitably be struck across Canada, undermining our entire universal public health care system.
Similarly to arguments made by the plaintiff in the Alberta case, Dr. Day argues that wait times would improve by striking down Medicare laws.
But evidence from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the UK shows the opposite: a two-tier system leads to longer wait times and worse health outcomes. Only those who can afford to pay have shorter wait times when they buy their way to the front of the line. Everyone else waits longer because doctors can only treat one patient at a time.
I’m encouraged to see last week’s Alberta court decision and hope for a similar outcome in B.C. this fall. Canada does not need health reform through an end-run in the courts, driven by for-profit clinic owners. We need evidence-based improvements in the public system to reduce wait times for elective surgeries for everyone.
Rick Turner, co-chair, BC Health Coalition