Friends of Medicare responds to the Cambie decision

Friends of Medicare responds to the Cambie decision

Today, the BC courts made a historic decision on the infamous Cambie Case, ruling that provincial laws which limit a two-tier health care system do not contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

Public health care advocates and proponents in British Columbia and all across Canada have long been anxiously awaiting the decision, which held the potential to drastically alter the direction of the future of our public health care system. With this 880 page ruling, the court has fortified the central principle that underlies Canada’s public health care system—that care should be available based on our need, not on whether we have the ability to pay. Today, we have witnessed a major win for public health care, and for every Canadian who relies on it.

Friends of Medicare is heartened by this decision, and its significance for our health care. The Cambie case has represented the most serious legal attack that our public health care system has ever faced. While it began in BC, it has taken aim at the very cornerstones of Medicare as mandated by the Canada Health Act, which have been entrenched by every province in the nation.

CEO of Cambie Surgeries, Dr. Brian Day, launched the constitutional challenge after he learned his private for-profit surgical centres were to be audited by the BC Government. The audit was triggered by BC nurses who stepped in to support dozens of patients who claimed that they had been illegally billed at Cambie's clinics. An audit later revealed that just 30 days, Day’s clinics had overcharged patients by almost half a million dollars. The majority of the plaintiffs' physician witnesses are affiliated with Cambie Surgeries, either as shareholders or physicians, and receive significant financial compensation. This includes CEO Brian Day, whose compensation ranges from approximately $1.14 million to $2.218 million per year, indicating the significant financial interest that is wrapped up in the outcome of this case.

The provinces of Alberta and BC both have laws to protect against public funds being used to subsidize private profits. Physicians, such as those operating at the Cambie clinic, are free to work privately so long as they opt themselves out of the public system. But Dr. Day and his affiliates were asking that Canada allow doctors to maximize their profits by billing patients at whatever price they wish for health care services. They wanted private insurance companies to have the ability to offer and deny coverage for basic and necessary health care, like cancer treatments, or visits to a doctor or emergency room. As Albertans, this is a narrative that we have seen echoed by our provincial government, as they move to drastically increase the number of private surgical facilities in this province.

This case—the trial and its ruling—has reiterated what public health care advocates have always known: profit has no place in health care. Private for-profit health care siphons medical staff and resources from the public system, resulting in worsening wait times and declining care. This case was never about patientsit was simply about increasing the profits of those who seek to capitalize on the poor health of Canadians. Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become more evident than ever just how vitally important our public health care system is—and the urgency with which we must defend it.

While this is a historic victory for our public health care system, and a major blow against Brian Day and his camp, our work is far from over. As the Alberta government intensifies its plight to privatize every and all aspects of our health care system, Friends of Medicare and our allies all across this country will continue our fight to protect and strengthen our public health care system with a renewed sense of urgency. We have never advocated for the status quo; we must continue to strengthen and improve our public health care system for the sake of every Canadian—now, and for generations to come.