BEFORE I retired, I used to visit and stay overnight with an old friend of mine in a Canada-U.S. border town. He was a doctor who had done quite well for himself with a lovely home in the country, riding horses, and an aeroplane which he parked on a nearby lake.

Upon my last visit, he confided in me that he wasn’t happy with the Ontario health care system. Unfortunately, he felt that public health care didn’t allow him the considerable money his doctor friends in the U.S. could make doing particular small surgeries under a privatized ‘for-profit’ system.

That was 20 years ago. At the time, I didn’t doubt that medicare in Canada would continue to be a better option for most of us for many years to come. Like most, I’ve taken what has been a wonderful gift from an earlier time for granted.

Times are changing, and today I believe we should be very afraid.

Bill 74, tabled in the Ontario legislature on Feb. 26, is a sweeping omnibus bill which will centralize and reshape health care delivery through a super agency based in Toronto. With no prior public consultation, the agency — dubbed “Ontario Health” — will have vast new powers over hospitals, long-term care, home care, community care, mental health, lab-testing, and health clinics.

While Health Minister Christine Elliott has dismissed charges that Ontario Health will allow increasing privatization and two-tier delivery, we know from experience that her boss, Premier Doug Ford, cannot be trusted to keep that promise.

Meanwhile, late last year, Dr. Brian Day and his private clinic, the Cambie Private Surgery Centre, was given a reprieve by the B.C. Supreme Court from fines they might have received by extra billing. In other words, fines for doing what should be covered without fees as ‘medically-necessary’ procedures under the Canada Health Act. The story is ongoing, but one which must remain on our radar.

But here’s the thing. If we do nothing to defend our public health-care system, I fear we will very soon find ourselves in the same boat with our American neighbours.

A recent ranking of countries with respect to health-care delivery was reported last summer in the Atlantic Monthly. According to the Commonwealth Fund, a U.S.-based research and medical advocacy institute, the best developed countries for health care are the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Australia. The lowest performer was the United States.

The Commonwealth Fund also found that not only was the U.S. system disproportionately expensive — it was also inefficient; just the opposite of the case touted by lobbyists and advocates for privatized medicine in Ontario.

As a parting comment to highlight my concern, another friend of mine, while wintering in the U.S., was recently charged $14,000 for the testing and treatment for a kidney stone. Thank goodness he had a health-care plan. But what if he hadn’t? Many simply can’t afford one. If the trend to privatized (in essence, ‘for-profit medicine’) continues in Ontario, the gap between the rich and the poor will increase exponentially.

So, wrench yourselves out of your routines and comfort zones. Do what you can to make your feelings known to our locally-elected provincial representatives, and the Ford government. Don’t take the future for granted.

Peter Lang

Kaministiquia

(Originally published April 9, 2019)

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