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Inside Canada's health care privatization movement

It’s too bad there aren’t more people behind this idea,” commented an ash blonde attendee in a grey pencil skirt and matching suit jacket as we filed into the elevator at The Fraser Institute on Burrard Street.

Some of the doctors, politicians, and sympathizers remained in the presentation room chatting to one another after Dr. Brian Day’s laudatory speech on health care privatization, "The Madness of Medicare".

The real problem, she continued, was that “unfortunately, it’s usually the left-leaning people that are the most politically active today.”

The six grey-haired business types nodded in agreement, lamenting the state of affairs with a rueful snicker.

Ten minutes before, she had inquired how Dr. Day can widen his message to Canadians amidst vehement defense of the current health care system in the country.

She noted that in spite of a powerful NDP presence in Vancouver, he managed to operate his private clinic without much trouble, and that “in fact, [Dr. Day] enjoyed 40 favorable editorials across the nation.”

There seems to be little awareness, however, that it was Paul Martin’s administration that pushed through the current health care system back in 2004, after Roy Romanow published his landmark Health Care report in 2002 exacting what was needed for the following 10 years.

At the event, Liberal Chilliwack MLA Jon Les made no secret of his fervor for Day’s concept to privatize health care: "We have to find a system that is responsive to patients, not responsive to bureaucrats, and not responsive to politicians. Give patients their rights back. Dr. Day knows the issue inside out, has all the data on it, and everything he told us is right on the money,” he argued.

Cambie Surgical Centre

In 1995, Dr. Brian Day opened Canada’s first for-profit, private clinic, the Cambie Surgical Centre, where he promises to deliver first class surgery while taking the load off the overcrowded and mismanaged public system.

In July, Day got into hot water with the BC government for extra billing patients in the amount of roughly $500,000, but the only thing the BC government did was to kindly ask him to stop the practice. To which he raised a proverbial middle finger and went ahead with his business replacing hips and knees.

The government could not even recuperate the money, since extra-billing is adjudicated under the Canada Health Act, a federal issue.

In addition to the extra-billing of patients, the Canada Health Act explicitly prohibits provincially insured medical procedures to be administered extra-systemically, but the precedent set by the Quebec vs. Chaoulli case now gives him and physicians like him a way around the Act.

In 2005, the Quebec Supreme court deemed it unconstitutional for the public system to force patients deteriorating in health to wait to be treated simply because hospitals were backed up and private clinics are not allowed to perform the same procedures.

The private sector thinking goes that Canadians should be able to decide individually how they want to spend their money, and if they decide to skip the queue to treat a ligament injury, then so be it.

The government cannot run a monopoly on such issues,” as Dr. Day put it.

A costly public health care system

The reason health care privatization is stepping to the forefront in the national debate is because the Canada Health Act has become a mangy, cost-addled money trap fed by annual increases well beyond the economy’s current abilities. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international policy performance gauge, repeatedly ranks Canada as a mediocre healthcare supplier at best.

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