This year marks the 60th anniversary of Canada’s most beloved social program – Medicare. Over the past two years, Canadians have seen first-hand just how important our public, not-for-profit health care system is.
But, the pandemic has also exposed the cracks caused by 25 years of austerity and cuts. While the calls to rebuild capacity in our public health care system have been loud, we are facing the threat of privatization once again.
Earlier this month, Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott announced plans to allow private hospitals – also known as Independent Health Facilities – to operate in Ontario. At a news conference in early February, Elliott stated that Ontario has capacity because the government is, “making sure that we can let Independent Health Facilities operate private hospitals.”
Private hospitals are banned in Ontario, as they have been since the 1970s – and for good reason. Currently, there are three private hospitals, which were grandfathered-in at the time the anti-private hospital legislation was passed, and these facilities remain limited in their scope of practice.
The ban on private hospitals is important because the vast majority of them are for-profit and don’t improve capacity – they siphon valuable resources away from our public system and into the pockets of large, for-profit companies.
Private hospitals drain our capacity, they don’t help rebuild it.
They take only the “easiest” patients – performing high-turnover procedures on patients with the lowest risks, in an effort to maximize profits. It’s what health care advocates call cream-skimming – pulling the easy money and leaving all the highest cost, highest risk procedures to public hospitals.
They also charge patients user fees and other additional costs to boost their profits even more.
They pull health care professionals away from the public system, which is already desperately understaffed. Wage cap legislation like Bill 124 doesn’t help.
And most distressingly, they put profit at the centre of our public health care system. We need not look any further than long-term care to see why that’s a problem. During the pandemic, we witnessed in horror as privately owned and operated long-term care facilities had worse conditions and much higher death rates than public homes.
The pandemic has proven that profits have no place in health care.
There’s no denying that Ontario has a health care capacity crisis. But empowering private hospitals to operate is not the solution. If we’ve got the resources to splurge on corporate profits, surely we’ve got the resources to invest properly in our public, not-for-profit health care system and rebuild its capacity; to invest in beds and staffing and pay them fairly for their heroic efforts.
As we move to reopen Ontario, we must not allow the COVID-19 crisis to be used as justification to privatize our beloved public health care system. After sixty years, we know better.
Now, as we head into the provincial election, we must be prepared to fight for it.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
First Vice-President/Treasurer, OPSEU/SEFPO
Chair, OPSEU/SEFPO Hospital Professionals Division