Patients who need to stay overnight at one of Montreal’s two new superhospitals may be facing user fees.
With the aim of reducing the risk of spreading infections, the new hospitals — one managed by the McGill University Health Centre network (MUHC) and the other managed by the Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM) network — will only have private rooms, according to Radio-Canada's program La Facture,
Quebec patients have traditionally had to pay extra fees for that level of privacy. At the Montreal General hospital, patients fork over $71 a night for a semi-private room and $141 for a fully private room.
Michel Fontaine, a senior official with Quebec's health ministry, said hospitals rely on that cash as revenue.
"I'm not hiding anything from you. It's written in the law. It's a known fact that when patients pay for more than the basic service, it's a source of revenue for the hospital," Fontaine said.
“It’s normal for people to pay for something more luxurious.”
Now the ministry says it’s looking at introducing a sliding scale fee for the private rooms at the new superhospitals, based on patient income.
Fontaine said the formula could be similar to that applied to patients residing in provincial long-term care homes, known by their French acronym, CHSLDs.
Pierre Blain, the executive director of RPCU, a Quebec patients' rights group, calls that option “unacceptable."
“Hospitals are a necessity, not a choice,” he said.
“To fight infections means you have to put in place some services, but not to charge people twice for the same services that you are paying for with your taxes.”
In 2004, Liberal leader Philippe Couillard, who was Quebec's Health Minister at the time, said patients at the new superhospitals would not have to absorb the costs for the switch to semi-private and private rooms.
Yves Bolduc, the Liberal health critic, said the idea of a sliding-scale for rooms is not acceptable.
"This breaches the principle of universality," he said.
However, another health ministry official, Pierre Lafleur, said the proposal in no way threatens to limit access to hospital rooms.
"Free hospitalization is here to stay... those who want access to a free room will have a free room. That is the basis of our reflections on this and the basis of Quebec's health care system," he said.
"The CUSM or the CHUM will not become hospitals for the elites of Montreal and the rest of Quebec."
Quebec's health ministry said it is setting up a committee to study options before it makes a final decision.