Future of health care at stake

By Paul Cowley - Red Deer Advocate
Published: June 01, 2014
In a B.C. courtroom this fall, nothing less than the future of Canada’s health-care system will be at stake, says the B.C. Health Coalition.
In a trial set for 18 weeks, a lawsuit launched by B.C. surgeon Dr. Brian Day and several patients will be argued before the judges. Day, who runs the Cambie Surgery Clinic in Vancouver launched a constitutional challenge, arguing current health law contravenes his right to directly charge medical services to patients.
“If he were successful we would see Canada revert more to a U.S.-style health system where health care is based on wealth, rather than need,” said Rick Turner, co-chair of the B.C. Health Coalition, which is intervening in the case to defend the country’s public health-care system. “I don’t think anybody wants that at all.”
Turner brought his message to the Friends of Medicare’s annual general meeting in Red Deer on Saturday. Some have argued that patients with the cash have a right to seek treatment faster than the public system can offer. Turner understands those arguments, but the coalition firmly believes opening the door to a system where wealth is the priority, not need, will be a big mistake.
That isn’t to say there are not improvements that can and should be made to the current health system, which still does a good job in dealing quickly with life-threatening situations. Wait lists for many elective surgeries, such as hip and knee replacements, can be too long, but there are ways to address that without going to a private model. For instance, in Alberta surgical centres were dedicated to hips and knees and waiting lists were dramatically reduced. Studies have shown allowing private health-care operations to set up alongside the public facilities does nothing to reduce wait times. 
Private health care is not cheaper either. Administration costs are far higher than the public system, he said.
Turner said whichever side prevails in B.C.’s court, the issue is likely destined to go to the Supreme Court of Canada. Those who are concerned about Day’s challenge want to ensure that all of the evidence is before the B.C. judges so it will then be taken forward to the country’s highest court.
“The Supreme Court is unlikely to hear new evidence. They are likely to hear only the evidence that was presented at the B.C. Supreme Court level.”
Previous cases along similar lines, including a case in Quebec that led to private health insurance being introduced, have shown the importance of having all the evidence brought before the court, he said.

Friends of Medicare executive director Sandra Azocar pointed out that the public health-care battle was recently fought on an Alberta front. In April, an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench justice ruled against a constitutional challenge against the province’s virtual monopoly on health care.

The claim was based on Quebec’s case, but the court ruled that not enough evidence was presented to show the plaintiff — a dentist who sought back treatment in the U.S. — had his charter rights violated.