EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.
Ontario has passed legislation to enable the expansion of surgeries performed in private clinics.
Bill 60, the Your Health Act, passed over the objections of opposition MPPs, who vowed Monday to continue to fight the changes it will bring to the health-care system by allowing companies — both for-profit and not-for-profit — to establish private clinics in Ontario for diagnostic imaging and some surgeries, such as hip and knee replacements, under a new licensing system.
The NDP held a press conference Monday to air their objections to what Leader Marit Stiles calls the government's "plan for two-tier investor-driven health care" along with health-care unions and the Ontario Health Coalition advocacy group, which oppose the bill.
The Ontario Health Coalition is running a "referendum" on the private surgeries plan, with voting online and in-person, in an effort to show the public opposes it. Executive Director Natalie Mehra said the public has not had a chance to vote on the issue because the Ford government had categorically denied prior to the last election that the use of private facilities in Ontario would be expanded or changed.
Before the press conference began, NDP Health Critic France Gélinas told the group of advocates the goal was to continue the fight by making potential investors think twice about spending their money because the legislation would be overturned when the Ford government was gone.
Asked what an NDP government would do about clinics established under the new law, Stiles spoke about the government of British Columbia buying out some private clinics and bringing them under the public system.
"I think that's where we're headed," said Stiles. "I don't think we'll have any choice, and we won't hesitate."
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said his party would question whether buying back clinics is the best use of money, but said a Liberal government would increase the "guardrails" on the clinics and limit their ability to create equity by prohibiting the transferring of licences, and he was sending them a message to that effect.
"If you have a licence and it's not transferable, it belongs to the people of Ontario, to the government, Ontario. Is it a great investment? Probably not. If that's what you're looking to do," he said.
For his part, Green Leader Mike Schreiner said he wants to make it clear to potential investors that under future governments — at least, in the case of a Green one — public money will be directed to non-profit public health-care system and not to private clinics.
All of the opposition parties were united in criticizing the bill for the same reasons: they believe it will drain staff from public hospitals that are already facing a staffing crunch, that it will lead to patients being "upsold" and pressured into paying for care, that it will create a two-tiered system where wealthy people are served first, and that it will cost the public more than an expansion of the public hospital system would.
However, the government has promised protections against those concerns and is touting the bill as a way to reduce surgical wait times and bring care closer to home.
"When it comes to your health, the status quo is no longer acceptable," said Robin Martin, parliamentary assistant to the health minister, in question period Monday. "Our government is taking bold action to eliminate surgical backlogs and reduce wait times for publicly funded surgeries and procedures. Ontario has a three-step plan that better integrates and uses community surgical diagnostic centres and their state-of-the-art facilities to speed up how quickly people are able to get surgeries and procedures using their health care card, never their credit card."
Many key details of the proposed licensing regime were not included in the legislation itself but in regulations. According to the health minister's office, they will be publicly posted in the coming days.