What Brian Day’s attack on public health care is all about, and why you should care

On September 6, the B.C. Supreme Court will begin to hear Cambie Surgeries Corporation et al v. Medical Services Commission et al.  

It’s an unprecedented charter challenge that could remove the laws that ensure Canadians access to health care is based on need, not wealth.

Dr. Brian Day’s two private for-profit clinics, and a patient group, are the plaintiffs in the case. They are asking the court to rule that four sections of the Medicare Protection Act (B.C.’s health care legislation), violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They argue that the prohibition on user fees, extra-billing (charging patients more than the legal amount), and the ban on duplicative health insurance (the sale of private health insurance for services that are already covered by public health insurance) violate the constitution.

This case could fundamentally change health care access because the laws Day is challenging keep public health care intact. If the charter challenge succeeds, it will likely mean that Canadians will eventually pay much more for medical care and private insurance than they currently do and that the marginal benefits of private care reach only a privileged few.

This is because doctors in for-profit clinics will be able to charge whatever they want for necessary services, and U.S. private insurance companies will expand into the Canadian market.

Canadians will experience a deepening divide between those who can afford to pay for health care and those who cannot.

The Medical Services Commission of B.C., the Minister of Health Services of B.C., and the Attorney General of B.C. are the defendants.

One of their central arguments will be that evidence shows striking down the challenged laws will create a health care system where medical care is provided preferentially to those who can pay for it, while waitlists grow longer for the vast majority of the population.

The federal government is the sole “party” to the case and is expected to defend the Canada Health Act.

Several intervenors are also involved in the case including patients, and health care advocates like the BC Health Coalition and Canadian Doctors for Medicare.

They will be arguing that everyone in Canada should be able to receive the same quality of care, regardless of their bank balance.

In addition, they will demonstrate that research from around the world shows that privatization makes wait times longer for most people. The intervenors believe that governments and health authorities should pursue evidence-based solutions that will improve health care for everyone, instead of a privileged few.

The significance of this case is unprecedented.

It will almost certainly advance to the Supreme Court of Canada. The outcome will impact all provinces and territories because the rules the plaintiffs seek to strike down are central to the Canada Health Act and every provincial health care insurance plan.

Day’s proposal for changes to public health care would line the pockets of private insurance companies and for-profit facility owners like himself, at the expense of people in pain.

For more information on the court case, visit http://www.savemedicare.ca/.

This article originally appeared in the Summer/Fall 2016 issue of the Guardian.