Restrictions on private health care in Canada are unconstitutional

Op-eds Opinions

18.3 weeks. That was the median wait time in Canada between getting a referral from a general practitioner to receiving the treatment in 2015, according to the Fraser Institute. Yet, the Canada Health Act’s main goal is to “protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada.” It’s ironic, then, that wait times have increased to as long as four months, which can significantly decrease Canadians’ well-being. Calling this a problem for our universal health care system would be an understatement.

Over four months is an unreasonable amount of time to wait between referral and treatment. It is staggering to think that wait times could still increase. In 1993, wait times were just 9.3 weeks — that’s a 97 per cent increase in 23 years. Imagine if this figure grew another 97 per cent to about 27 weeks over the next 23 years.

It’s for that reason Brian Day, a Vancouver-based doctor and former president of the Canadian Medical Association, is challenging the B.C Health Ministry in a lawsuit that could set an important precedent in Canada’s nation-wide health care system.

Day, who allows for his patients to pay out of their own pockets rather than wait for their care through public services, believes the restrictions on private care are unconstitutional. Furthermore, he argues that a win against the B.C Health Ministry would open the door for private insurances, free up resources to cut wait times, and boost the quality of care for everyone. This would be similar to other universal public healthcare systems, such as those of the U.K. and Australia, which allow for everyone to have access to healthcare, but also for individuals to look for private options outside of the public plan.

Included in Day’s lawsuit is 20-year-old Walid Khalfallah, who waited over two years for medical treatment of a spinal condition. Unfortunately, there were only two doctors in B.C at the time with the skills that can perform the spinal procedure that Khalfallah and 130 other B.C. kids needed. While Canadian guidelines set the maximum wait time for such cases at three months, Khalfallah was eventually treated in the U.S after waiting ten times that long for treatment. He is now partially paralyzed and needs a wheelchair to move around.

If Khalfallah or his parents had paid out of their own pockets, he could have had access to treatment quicker, which may have saved him from being paralyzed. This illustrates how Day’s hybrid plan, where individuals can look for options outside the public plan, is the better option.

The current system is unconstitutional, as Canadians should not be hindered in their access to treatment because of long wait times. Allowing for people to spend their money on treatment that could improve their well-being should be a fundamental right and not be road blocked by the B.C. Ministry of Health.