Doug Ford’s troubling push for more private health care

Posted on March 31, 2022 in Health Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion
March 30, 2022.   By Bob Hepburn, Star Columnist

With Ontario voting on June 2, supporters of public health care must wake up and voice concerns to provincial politicians who are already campaigning.

Premier Doug Ford makes little secret of his fondness for private health care.

Since assuming power in 2018, Ford and his Conservative government have increased the role of private health-care companies in everything from diagnostic testing clinics, long-term care homes and home-care service providers.

And now the government is even suggesting it’s about to open the door for more private hospitals in Ontario.

Importantly, all these moves could ultimately undermine our current public health-care system, which is based on the principle that medically necessary health care should be allocated on the basis of medical need, not on the ability to pay.

With an Ontario election just nine weeks away, it’s time supporters of public health care woke up and started to voice their concerns to provincial politicians who are already on the campaign trail.

While Ford and his cabinet ministers insist they are still strong backers of public health care and point to increased spending on hospitals and slightly higher pay for nurses to back up their case, the evidence actually points to a deliberate and concerted move by Ford to allow more for-profit health care in Ontario.

Most worrisome is a clear desire by Ford to bring in private hospitals, which cater to rich patients who want to jump the queue when it comes to non-emergency care and which do little or nothing to ease the demands on public hospitals.

During a speech in February promoting the reopening of health-care services as the COVID-19 pandemic eased, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the Ford government was “opening up pediatric surgeries, cancer screenings, making sure that we can let independent health facilities operate private hospitals, all of those things are possible.” Elliott has subsequently announced she won’t seek re-election.

Private hospitals have been banned in Ontario since 1973. Private hospitals operating at that time, such as the Shouldice Hernia Hospital in Toronto, were allowed to remain open.

On long-term care homes, Ford is in the process of handing out new 30-year licences to for-profit companies that will result in 18,000 more long-term care beds in the province. The move comes despite proof during the current pandemic that private long-term care facilities had twice as high average death rates among residents, had fewer staff on duty and paid lower wages than public facilities

On home care, the government is moving to privatize what remains of this critical sector, which is already dominated by private service providers. Private firms win government contracts by offering the cheapest service rates possible — all at the expense of patients in need and front-line staff who deserve more pay.

On private labs, Ford has severely restricted access to publicly funded PCR tests for COVID, thus bolstering private testing clinics that often charge patients more than $200 for the vital tests once provided by the government.

At the same time, Ford is clearly swayed by the unrelenting drumbeat for more privatization from so-called “reformers,” including private clinics, insurance companies, right-wing think tanks, such as the Fraser Institute, and conservative media outlets, such as the National Post and Toronto Sun.

Leading the charge for them is Dr. Brian Day, a Vancouver surgeon who is the public face of the pro-privatization movement in Canada. Day fought and lost a 10-year court case in B.C. to overturn laws limiting a two-tier health system. The case is being appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Clearly, there’s a lot of money to be made in for-profit health care. For example, Day’s surgery centre often charges patients extra money over and above what the government will pay for specific treatment.

For supporters of public health care, the June 2 Ontario election may be the most important in a generation.

Indeed, Ford’s drive to further privatize health care while continuing to underfund the public system and underpay health-care workers should be thetop campaign issue.

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