British Columbia

'We will lose the essence of what Canada is all about': Doctor speaks out on private health-care lawsuit

A board member of Canadian Doctors for Medicare says allowing private health-care insurance will create an unequal system and longer waiting lists for some Canadian patients.

Dr. Michael Klein says new lawsuit will allow some patients to queue-jump, leading to longer wait-lists

Dr. Michael Klein, a family physician, pediatrician and professor, has practised in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada. He says for-profit health care threatens the Canadian system. (Canadian Doctors for Medicare)

Public health-care supporters say there will be serious consequences if the plaintiffs in a health-care trial that began Tuesday in B.C. are successful.

Dr. Michael Klein, a family physician and pediatrician who sits on the board of Canadian Doctors for Medicare — one of the interveners in the case — says introducing private health-care insurance in British Columbia could spell the end of public health care.

"We will lose the essence of what Canada is all about — which is equity and fairness," he explained.

"Doctors will be in a position to take patients who are in pain and who are vulnerable and say things to them like, "I can operate on you in nine months in the public system, but if you come to me in my private clinic, it'll be two weeks or one month."

Current system called 'dysfunctional'

The suit's plaintiffs, Dr. Brian Day of the Cambie Surgery Centre in Vancouver along with a number of patients, have launched the suit to overturn B.C.'s ban on the purchase of private insurance for medically necessary services.

Day argues the current health-care system is "dysfunctional."

"Our system is extremely inefficient and … what we're doing is just not working," he said, pointing out that one of the plaintiffs was left paralyzed after being on a 27-month wait-list for spinal surgery at B.C. Children's Hospital.

"[The government cannot] offer health care in a public health system, then not give them access, and then at the same time, deny them their individual rights to gain those rights outside of the public system."

Day points out there is precedent.

In 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a private health care ban in Quebec in a 4-3 decision.

"We're basically asking for citizens outside of Quebec to have the same protections that the Supreme Court of Canada granted to patients in Quebec."

Lawsuit about profit, critic says

Klein claims Day has other intentions.

"It is really not about [patient care]. It is about the ability of a doctor to charge whatever he wants to charge for a service which is already covered by the public purse, and to bill — actually double bill — the public system and private system."

Klein admits the current health-care system has inefficiencies.

"What is required is a major intervention to improve the medicare system," he said.

"But Dr. Day's cure is worse than the disease."

A routine procedure is performed at Dr. Brian Day's Cambie Surgery Centre in Vancouver. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

With files from The Early Edition


To hear the segment, click on the link labelled Lawsuit could determine future of Canadian health care

now