Two-tier travesty?

BC should re-evaluate current healthcare laws

By Natalie Serafini, Opinions Editor

As Canadians, we’re supposed to be treated equally in relation to important matters like healthcare. But are we, and is that even ideal? Dr. Brian Day, who runs Cambie Surgeries Corp. and the Specialist Referral Clinic, has prompted a relaunch of the two-tier healthcare debate by charging patients for services covered by provincial healthcare.

A two-tier system is one where citizens pay for their own healthcare. They can directly pay the doctor or medical institution, or invest in insurance. The good? Receiving quicker, better treatment. The bad? Few people, apart from the rich, have a couple thousand dollars sitting by ready for unexpected surgery.

An audit found that Dr. Day’s clinics were illegally billing patients. Because of an injunction to stop him, Dr. Day is challenging the province’s healthcare laws in court. He argues that by charging patients, he helps to unburden the health care system. Otherwise, some people spend months on a waiting list for services that he can easily provide for a fee.

One of Day’s more persuasive examples, reported by The Province’s Michael Smyth, relates to performing surgery on 79-year-old Erma Krahn. Krahn has lung cancer, and was on an 18-month waiting list for knee surgery. Day states that “she injured her knee, and all she wants to do is enjoy the quality of life she has remaining. She wants to go for her walks. But the government says, ‘No, you have to wait.’ They handed an 18-month sentence to a woman who may have only 18 months, or less, to live.”

Those opposed to a two-tier healthcare system argue that access to medical treatment should depend on need and not bank account. Although supporters of the two-tier system suggest that a change would unburden the public system, opponents state that removing the wealthy from our healthcare system would be incredibly detrimental.

In many ways, I think Dr. Day is right. There are dangers associated with allowing doctors to charge patients, but no one wants to wait months for surgery if it’s possible to receive aid sooner.

Nonetheless, I’m concerned that allowing doctors to charge their patients for services means that the rich will get better health service while the poor will continue to receive the care—or lack thereof—available through our current healthcare system. The logistics of a two-tier healthcare system are questionable, as well. Decisions need to be made with regards to whether people who opt for this pricey private practice would be exempt from contributing to the healthcare system, or if they would have to pay for their own care and contribute again for everyone else’s.

More than anything, this issue addresses a problem with our healthcare system. If there wasn’t a serious problem with waiting lists and lack of care due to overburdened doctors, nurses, and hospitals, it would be easy to simply dismiss the debate as academic. Perhaps BC’s regulations are outdated or too broad. Maybe Dr. Day is wrong, but it’s possible that his audit and the subsequent injunctions and lawsuits are necessary to prompt a re-evaluation of BC’s healthcare system.