BC health-care suit could determine fate of medicare, lawyer says – The Globe and Mail


Two groups intervening in the constitutional challenge of B.C.’s ban on
private health care say a ruling in favour of a for-profit clinic would greatly
undermine the public medical system and its tenet that access to treatment
doesn’t hinge on a patient’s ability to pay.

The Cambie Surgery Centre, a private Vancouver clinic, opened its
constitutional challenge last week in B.C. Supreme Court. A lawyer for the
clinic and four of its patients argued that barring residents from accessing
private health care and forcing them to suffer on lengthy waiting lists violates
their Charter rights.

But Marjorie Brown, a lawyer representing four patient intervenors, told the
court in her opening statement Wednesday that the Medicare Protection Act is a
“dignified way by which to lawfully ensure equal access to necessary medical
care, regardless of one’s ability to pay … and/or other social
circumstances.”

Ms. Brown said residents of this country have a right to not worry about the
high cost of medical care. She said that is “the promise” of not only the
Medicare Protection Act, but also the Canada Health Act.

This case, Ms. Brown said, could determine the fate of medicare for all
Canadians.

“This case is indeed about the future of the public health-care system, in
its ideal and actual forms,” she said.

Ms. Brown went on to question the clinic’s motivation for pursuing the case
and said the provisions it seeks to strike are “all about the ability to charge
money.”

She
pointed to one provision of the Medicare Protection Act that prohibits extra
charges for medically necessary services, and another that prohibits the
purchase and sale of private insurance.

Ms.
Brown also argued the clinic’s Charter argument is “not about the liberty or the
security of the person, but rather about the right of the Cambie clinic to
profit as a private corporation.”

Alison
Latimer, a lawyer representing another group of intervenors, gave her opening
statement after Ms. Brown and urged the judge to remain mindful of the Charter
interests of “ordinary British Columbians whose health depends on retaining the
long-standing protections that the plaintiffs seek to eliminate.”

The
group Ms. Latimer represents includes Canadian Doctors for Medicare, the B.C.
Health Coalition, as well as two patients and two individual
physicians.

Ms.
Latimer said her group will tender as evidence an expert report that found
“fundamental flaws” in the plaintiffs’ claim that striking down sections of the
Medicare Protection Act would yield a health-care system similar to those seen
in several European countries, where public and private systems operate in
parallel.

She
said striking down the protections would be more likely to result in a
health-care system that resembles that in the United States.

Peter
Gall, lawyer for the plaintiffs, last week told the court the B.C. government
does not provide timely medical services and its failure causes substantial harm
to the physical and mental health of residents. He said that because the public
system has failed to protect the health of all British Columbians, the
government cannot constitutionally prohibit residents from accessing private
health care.

A
B.C. government lawyer gave his opening statement Monday and acknowledged
“longer than desirable” waiting lists persist for some elective or scheduled
procedures. However, he said if the plaintiffs are successful in their
constitutional challenge, the problem will only worsen.

Jonathan
Penner, the lawyer for the province, said a win for the plaintiffs “would create
perverse incentives for physicians and would introduce a private system that
would depend on abandonment of the present efforts to reduce wait times in the
public system.”

The
federal government, which is a party to the case, did not give an opening
statement.



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