The Cambie case, which is now winding up in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, could have a big impact on the future of our Canadian system of universal health care.
This charter challenge by Dr. Brian Day, one of the founders of the Cambie Surgical Clinic, is threatening the foundational principle of this system: that care should be based on people’s needs, not on their ability to pay.
He wants doctors to be able to charge patients extra fees to be paid out-of-pocket or through private health insurance. The evidence clearly shows that public solutions are the most effective way to decrease wait times for everyone.
Day’s for-profit, privatized care would drain resources from the public system, leaving us with longer wait times and declining quality of care. This is a corporation arguing for the right to charge as much as it wants, while also being subsidized by the public system.
If Day wins, private insurers will push the very sick and vulnerable to the back of the line because they will select the least complicated medical conditions in order to earn higher profits. Day and his supporters show no concern for the rights of those who are ineligible for or who cannot afford private health insurance or private care.
This case could undermine and change our entire public health-care system. Day is invoking Section 7 of the Canadian Charter – the right to life, liberty and security of the person – as a basis for striking down B.C.’s ban on private health insurance, extra-billing by physicians and other limits placed on private care.
This case is about doctors’ billing practices, not patients’ charter rights to improved health care. Day claims that it is unconstitutional for governments to place any limits on private care that might make it harder for those who can afford it to jump the public queue.
Canadians disagree. Opinion polls show that 90 per cent of people in B.C. believe health care must be based on need, not on the ability to pay. Day and his supporters are not fighting for patients’ rights. They are not asking the courts to order Canadian governments to address inadequacies and inequities within the public system.
They are asking the courts to effectively dismantle the public system, which would be detrimental to the well-being of Canadians.
Mary Boyd is chair of the P.E.I. Health Coalition.