Stethoscope with financial statement
Written by Jim Sinclair, Board Chair, Fraser Health

Fraser Health Board Chair Jim Sinclair talks about the importance of public health care and the ongoing need to invest in our system.

On May 3, 2018, the Vancouver Sun published an Op-Ed from Fraser Health’s Board Chair, outlining his thoughts on the Medicare Protection Act and extra-billing in private clinics across British Columbia. This Op-Ed is reprinted in this edition of The Beat. 

Some time ago an American expat working as a taxi driver made one of the most profound statements I’ve ever heard about Canadian health care. The man was drawn here by the love of a Canadian woman, but he fell in love again when he realized that in Canada he no longer lived in fear that his health insurance would not cover a serious illness. Before coming here, he said he was a strong Republican who rejected out of hand any attempt to have Canadian style medicine in the United States.

The provincial government decision to activate changes to the Medicare Protection Act should help lessen the fear in everyone. These changes were long overdue – they were drafted in 2003 – stopping doctors from extra-billing for medical surgeries and procedures that are covered under our health care system. Extra-billing is a nice way to put it. Put another way it is queue jumping, and it not only undercuts the most basic foundation of our system, it is directly eroding our ability to provide health care in the most tangible way possible – in our collective pocket books.

The federal government recently reduced the health-care transfer payment to British Columbia by $15.9 million. That’s $15.9 million we cannot use to provide equal and fair health care to all. Private clinics that are breaking the law are not saving us money, they are costing us federal funding.  It’s time for the myth of private pay not hurting the public system to end.

Every day Fraser Health works to make the system more efficient, but we know that in British Columbia we do face some real challenges.  Last year we had the second lowest health-care spending per capita of any province according to the latest report from Canadian Institute for Health Information. The answer lies in recommitting to public health care, to equal access to health care, to health care based upon need not upon the size of a person’s wallet. That’s why at Fraser Health this year we are increasing the number of hip and knee surgeries by 23 percent or 836 additional surgeries and the number of MRIs by 14 percent or 7,770 additional exams (private MRIs simply allow patients with money to move up the waiting list while others wait longer for care as a result).

As Canadians we believe in taking care of each other. That’s the fundamental principle that underpins the Canadian health-care system. Most people trace the start of Canadian health care to Tommy Douglas in the 1960s, but the truth is the first health-care program in Canada started in Cape Breton as early as 1883.  The miners in the Glace Bay District pooled a small part of their wages each week so that they could collectively afford to take their children to the doctor when they were sick – something they could never do by themselves. More than a century has gone by and it is essentially the same principle today. We put our money in. A lot of people don’t use it, but when they need it, they get the best care possible no matter who they are.

If Cape Breton miners understood the power of public health care more than one hundred years ago and a Republican taxi driver from the U.S. can acknowledge that he used to live in fear, I say it is time to leave fear behind and embrace hope. We need to continue to embrace our public health-care system and we need to continue to make the changes and the investments necessary to make it the best in the world for all British Columbians. And to be clear – those investments do not include paying millions in fines because we allow private for-profit companies to continue extra billing practices.


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