Editorial: Slippery slope of private health care

The Ontario government announced a plan to introduce more privately-owned clinics to offer surgeries and clear the backlog in the health care system. While this stop-gap option may help with short term outcomes, done improperly it could open the province to a wider two-tier health care system.

Premier Doug Ford celebrated the announcement by his government of allowing specialized clinics, some privately owned, to clear backlogs of cataract surgeries and diagnostic MRI and CT scans. He said that the status quo of backlogs is unacceptable and his government’s action is “ensuring Ontarians use their OHIP card to get the care they need, never their credit card.”

The three step plan by the government will increase the cataract surgical capacity in Ontario by 25 per cent. According to the government, its plan will reduce wait times for MRI and CT scans. It is the third step that bears more scrutiny.

By 2024, the private but paid for by the public system will expand to private operations offering hip and knee replacement surgery, and more diagnostic imaging services. Ford says Ontarians’ will pay with their OHIP card, not their wallet. But that doesn’t guarantee equal access to these private services.

The threat of introducing more private-run, public-paid clinics is threefold. First, private companies could poach medical personnel from existing hospitals and clinics, where there already is not enough people to provide timely and quality health care. Allowing private competition for staff will add to staffing woes, not reduce them.

Second, it allows private service providers to be choosy about what cases/patients are taken on. A patient may not fit an exact model of what the private operator is looking for to have a high success rate or profitability. More complex surgeries, or ones with a lower profit margin, will still remain in the traditional medical system.

Lastly, and most importantly, allowing more private surgical clinics provides greater ability for people to jump the line. Ford says that Ontarians can use their OHIP card, but that does not mean the private health care provider does not accept cash, cheque, or credit cards too.

It can be argued that allowing some with the financial means to jump the line frees up space for those who cannot afford it. However, queue-jumping also goes against the basic idea of universal and publicly-funded health care. Universal access means equal care for all, not just those who can afford to pay for more themselves.

Without proper and independently set safeguards in place to protect and guarantee universal access for all Ontarians, the chance for abuse and corruption of the health care system is great. This is a slippery slope of private health care that needs to be closely watched to insure against disaster.

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