The Ontario government has passed a bill allowing private clinics to conduct more OHIP-covered surgeries as advocates warn of potential legal action.
Bill 60, also known as the Your Health Act, was passed by the Doug Ford government Monday at Queen’s Park and will go into effect once it receives Royal Assent.
The legislation was first tabled in February by Health Minister Sylvia Jones, who argued it was necessary to reduce the province’s large surgical backlog.
“People should not have to wait for months for diagnosis, and if necessary, surgeries,” Jones said on Feb. 21.
Under the bill, both for-profit and not-for-profit clinics will be allowed to conduct cataract surgeries, MRI and CT scans, minimally invasive gynecological surgeries and, eventually, knee and hip replacements under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.
The legislation was met with immediate backlash from advocates and experts concerned about oversight, staffing and upselling.
The province’s official opposition has repeatedly said the plan will result in a two-tiered system leading some patients to “jump to the front of the line.”
“Today is a sad day, a day that will go down in history of our province as the day that the Ford government delivered a fatal blow to our treasured Medicare,” NDP Health Critic France Gelinas told reporters Monday morning ahead of the vote.
“Today this Conservative government will say goodbye to care based on needs and come on in to investors who wants to make money off of the backs of sick people.”
The NDP has said it presented 74 amendments to the Your Health Act in committee, but none were accepted or even considered by the Doug Ford government.
“They did not engage in discussion. I would say they did not even listen to what we were saying,” Gelinas said.
A revised version of the legislation shows only one change, and it appears technical in nature.
The legislation, also known as Bill 60, specifies that a physician at a private clinic shall not turn a patient away for choosing to pay with their OHIP card.
Some experts have previously told CTV News Toronto that allowing private clinics to perform more procedures does have the potential to help relieve some of the pressure being put on province’s health-care system; however they also suggested that a plan for staffing, as well as transparent funding and oversight, will be necessary.
The province has said it will designate “expert organizations” to work with Ontario Health and the Ministry of Health to ensure quality and safety standards are met at every clinic. The director of this third-party or the ministry may issue an inspection of a facility if necessary.
The Ontario Health Coalition, which advocates for publicly-funded health care while representing more than 500 member organizations and individuals, has said this oversight is not enough to combat what they have previously called “manipulative upselling” at private clinics.
“Before they brought in the legislation, Doug Ford said that they had guardrails, and they will they will be protecting against all sorts of things,” Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, told reporters.
The coalition released a compilation of testimonies from patients in February that revealed instances in which people were forced to pay out of pocket for procedures that should be covered under their insurance.
In some instances, patients said they were urged to get upgraded lenses, told they had to incur the costs of eye measurements, and invoiced for contrast dye needed for imaging.
Mehra warned they will be filing a formal complaint to both the provincial and federal government, and that further legal action may be possible following the passing of Bill 60.
“If you think you’re going to set up shop here and charge OHIP and charge patients on top, you have another thing coming.”
While the Your Health Act does say that all private clinics will need to show they have a staffing model in place that won’t detract from other facilities, experts and unions say they remain concerned that staff will leave the public sector in exchange for better hours or pay at a private clinic.
“The idea is good, but there’s still there’s a tremendous lack of human resources to be able to sort of pull this one off,” Doug Angus, professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management the University of Ottawa, told CTV News Toronto in January.
John Fraser, interim Liberal leader, reiterated this in a statement issued Monday, saying the health-care system as it stands now is under stress and needs more support.
“What should be of great concern to all Ontarians is that the government’s solution to the healthcare human resources crisis – which will be the biggest ongoing challenge in this province for some time to come – is to set up a parallel system that will compete for the nurses, doctors, and frontline workers that our hospitals and long-term care homes desperately need,” Fraser said.
“There should be only one shareholder when it comes to our healthcare system, and that’s the patient.”
The province has said there are more than 200,000 people in Ontario waiting for surgical procedures.