Updated: 4:22 p.m.
Dr. Brian Peterson, a surgeon with the Okanagan Health Surgical Centre, says having a two-tier medical system will allow shorter wait times for patients using public healthcare.
About 15 people stood outside the centre’s building Tuesday and presented a symbolic invoice as a statement against extra billing, which has had a negative effect on the public heathcare system. The protesters carried invoices titled “Past Due” in the amount of $15.9 million.
“It’s (the protestors) interpretation that a two-tier healthcare system is going to destroy healthcare in Canada… If you provide another line of access for patients, you’re going to shorten the list,” he Peterson. “They’re trying to protect the Health Care Act so that Canadians don’t have the right to seek private treatment.”
“It’s not like we’re coercing patients to seek private care and bill the government at the same time, we’re giving you the option. You can either wait or have it done privately.”
Dr. Brian Day, a former president of the Canadian Medical Association, continues a lengthy lawsuit challenging the government’s ability to bar procedures from his Cambie Surgery Clinic in Vancouver.
“This is before the courts whether or not the Health Care Act trumps the Charter of Human Rights in Canada,” said Peterson.
Kelowna residents gathered Tuesday to protest a private clinic that is suspected of illegally extra-billing patients.
Organizer Ken Robinson addressed a crowd of about 15 people, saying a symbolic invoice was created for the Okanagan Health Surgical Centre as a statement against extra billing, which has a negative effect on the public heathcare system. The protesters carried invoices titled “Past Due” in the amount of $15.9 million.
“Great Canadian universal public healthcare shouldn’t depend on the size of your bank account,” he said.
B.C. has the most private clinics in Canada and the longest waiting times for surgeries, which he attributes to extra-billing undermining the healthcare system.
During the protest, a member of the public said he paid extra because his wife was sick and she needed care as quickly as possible.
“That sounds like the U.S. heathcare system and I’m glad he had the financial resources to be able to do that, but here in Canada, we have a universal publicly funded system… when he does that, it means the wait list in the public system ends up longer. The proof in that is that B.C. has the most private clinics and the most extra billing in Canada,” said Robinson. “I’m very happy for his wife.”
No one could be reached for comment at the surgical centre Tuesday morning.
In early April, Minister of Heath Adrian Dix announced the province will be enforcing outstanding sections of the Medicare Protection Amendment Act. The act was passed in 2003, but some sections were not brought into force, according to a provincial government news release.
“Extra billing means charging a patient or a representative for health care that should be provided at no cost, because it is covered under the Medical Services Plan, or publicly funded as a benefit under the Hospital Insurance Act,” said the release.
Based on audits conducted by the Ministry of Health, Health Canada estimated extra billing for 2015-16 was $15.9 million, and in March federal health funding was reduced by that amount.
— With files from Tom Fletcher
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