A doctor leading a legal challenge to a patient’s right to pay for private medical care says the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision not to hear an appeal means long waiting times have been “forcibly embedded” in the health insurance system.
Dr. Brian Day is CEO of Cambie Surgery Center, which has spent more than a decade in court with a small number of patients challenging British Columbia’s Medicare Protection Act, which prohibits additional fees and private insurance for medically necessary procedures.
They argued that in British Columbia’s public funding system, the long wait times amounted to a violation of patients’ rights to life, liberty and security of person under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Others applauded the decision, and an advocacy group involved in the case said it was a relief that the fundamentals of access to health care were protected regardless of someone’s ability to pay.
The B.C. Supreme Court rejected the constitutional challenge three years ago, and the provincial appeals court upheld the decision last year. On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada said it would not hear an appeal.
In a statement, Day said Canada needs to bring its system in line with other better-performing publicly funded systems around the world and provide supplemental health care through legitimate private insurance.
“Because the Supreme Court is not even considering the rights of suffering Canadians on the waiting list, Canadians, such as the patient plaintiff in our case who suffered the consequences of permanent paralysis and death while waiting for care and justice, are being denied access to both ,”He said.
“It is now clear to all that medically unacceptable wait times are mandated to be embedded in and represent policy within the government-funded health insurance system. The courts have endorsed this practice.”
Katie Arnup, executive director of Medicare Physicians of Canada, said she is relieved the battle in court is over.
She said Day and others seek to “get to the heart of the foundations of publicly funded health care in Canada,” specifically about access to care based on need rather than ability to pay.
“From the beginning, it’s been important to us to defend that principle. And I think … at the end of the day, that’s what wins.”
In the original BC Supreme Court ruling, Justice John Steeves said that while long waits for care may increase the risk for some patients, the overall goal of the regulations is to support a system of on-demand access to health care.
The Supreme Court of Canada did not announce why it chose not to hear the case. Only 7% of appeals will be granted by 2022.
Canadian Doctors for Medicare intervened in the first two court challenges.
This isn’t the end of the fight to improve the healthcare system, Arnup said.
“It just means this legal battle is over and we can refocus on innovations within the public system that will improve access to health care for everyone,” she said.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said at an unrelated news conference Thursday that the Supreme Court of Canada ruling ends the matter.
“I just want to say this is an extraordinary victory for British Columbia Public Health, the people of British Columbia, the Medicare Protection Act and our public health care system,” he said.
“It supports public health care and lets us do what we need to do to keep delivering better services in the public health care system. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
In an earlier statement, Dix said that despite the turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the province is working to reduce wait times and that 99 per cent of patients whose services were delayed during the pandemic have been admitted Operation.
British Columbia is now “ranked first nationally for the percentage of patients meeting clinical benchmarks for cataract surgery and second for hip and knee replacements,” the statement said.
Ashley Joannou, Canadian Press
BC Health Authority