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The Conservatives claim to be “improving Canada’s health care system to build a stronger, safer, better Canada.” So far, the Harper government has fallen short, allowing private, for-profit surgical and diagnostic clinics and “boutique” physician clinics to undermine Canadian public health care.

The Conservatives have encouraged the spread of private, for-profit clinics by failing to enforce the Canada Health Act and by using wait time “guarantees” as a ruse for outsourcing medically necessary procedures.  

The number of for-profit clinics has exploded in the last few years. Some clinics are beginning to provide services until now found only in public hospitals. Canada’s universal, single-payer health care system is being undermined, leaving the next generation of Canadians with a fractured, two-tiered system.

Private clinics are Stephen Harper’s idea of a “safer, better Canada”. But there is substantial evidence that the rapid privatization of medicare will mean longer wait times, higher costs, and lower quality health care for Canadians.

Wait times are longer

There is a misconception that more private clinics relieve pressure on the public system, thereby reducing wait times. But studies from England, New Zealand and Australia show that more for-profit health care within a country means longer waits in the public system. Closer to home, a Canadian study found that in Calgary - where for-profit clinics performed 100 per cent of cataract surgeries - patients waited an average of 16 to 24 weeks for surgery; in Edmonton (20 per cent for-profit), waits ranged from five to seven weeks, and in Lethbridge (100 per cent public), patients waited four to seven weeks.

Clinics impose user fees and allow queue jumping

The Canada Health Act was set up to ensure accessibility and universality of health care for all Canadians.  But the Conservatives have largely ignored it, resulting in medicare violations across the country. Private clinics are over-billing and charging user fees for diagnostic and surgical services that are clearly “medically necessary” under the Canada Health Act. Meanwhile, patients who can afford it are purchasing faster tests, using the results to “jump the queue” back into the public system for treatment.

We’re losing public health care workers

The shortage of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers is worsened by for-profit clinics poaching staff from the public system. To take one example, it takes six years to train a family doctor in Canada and nine years to train a medical oncologist.  The shortages are global, so every worker poached by private clinics means one fewer worker available to the public system.

Higher death rates, lower quality care

One peer-review study showed that patients treated in for-profit compared to non-profit dialysis clinics in the United States had an eight per cent higher risk of dying. Another found that adults had two per cent higher death rates in for-profit hospitals, while the infant mortality rate was 10 per cent higher. If Canada switched to a for-profit hospital system, that would mean 2,200 more deaths each year – more than deaths from suicide, colon cancer or car accidents.

Private costs more

The private sector mark-up is high. Research shows for-profit facilities charging anywhere from 19 per cent to over 125 per cent more than their public sector counterparts.

Clinics “cream skim”

Private clinics make their profits in part by selecting healthier clients and easier, more profitable procedures. They cater to the “easier” non-emergency cases, leaving the more costly ones to the public system.

Support staff jobs are compromised

The pattern is clear in the health sector: for-profit health employers offer lower pay, fewer benefits, heavier workload, poor training and less job security to support staff than do public non-profit employers.

Heightened inequality

Uneven access to health care between regions and communities within Canada is made worse by for-profit clinics, which cater to large urban centres and wealthy neighbourhoods. Rural and northern communities will be left behind.

If Canadians have to endure another Harper government, we will not recognize our health care system anymore. On October 14th, stand up for your medicare rights. Vote for a publicly funded, universal and accessible health care system.