Protecting healthcare from privatization

After months of advocacy, our calls to protect our universal healthcare system have led to real action.

We have been raising serious questions about two-tiered healthcare offered by private, for-profit companies like Telus Health for almost a year.

There is a lot of evidence that they have been charging British Columbians thousands of dollars for basic healthcare when those services are offered (for free) as part of our universal healthcare system.

Just yesterday, the government finally asked the courts to shut down Telus Health’s LifePlus program (called an “injunction”).

(This does not affect Telus’ MyCare program which offers virtual appointments with doctors, a bit like a virtual walk-in clinic. This program is covered by our universal healthcare system.)

So, you might be wondering why protecting healthcare from privatization is so important. Don’t private healthcare companies just reduce the pressure on the public system? Unfortunately, no. 

They make things much worse for our struggling healthcare system:

  • Patients lose their family doctors, because doctors are recruited to private healthcare and shut down their family practices. This has been happening a lot in BC and we’ve led the charge to uncover it.
  • Skilled healthcare specialists also move from the public healthcare system to the private sector, leaving gaps in services from surgeries to MRIs and physiotherapy.
  • Private healthcare companies push the boundaries between the universal healthcare system and the extra, non-essential healthcare services they are allowed to provide. They have lobbyists that push government officials to ease regulations so they can maximize their profits.
  • Paying for private healthcare spreads the idea that healthcare is a service you can upgrade, like flying first class or staying in the penthouse suite, rather than a universal basic need. When this happens, healthcare becomes a privilege for only those that can afford it.

When I brought this up in February, Health Minister Dix said he had requested an investigation, but minimized my concerns, as if I was raising a minor issue. 

But we persisted, because we knew something was wrong. 

We brought it up again and again in the legislature and were told, again and again, that the government is doing a great job on healthcare and there was no need to worry. 

So we held a press conference about it in August to raise our voices even louder.

We were about to hold another press conference, when news broke about the injunction. It is a relief that the government is finally doing something about healthcare privatization, but it took far too long. When our healthcare system is collapsing, we need strong, decisive action to protect and strengthen it.

I am also concerned that Minister Dix still won’t release the results of the investigation, despite promising to do so in April. The investigation was conducted by a public body (the Medical Services Commission) about a public service. It is in the public interest to tell British Columbians what they found.

So, after all this, we’re left with a very important question: when our universal healthcare system can’t keep up with caring for people, how do we fix it?

While there are no simple solutions, a lot of it comes down to a broad vision that the BC Greens are working on called the “community healthcare model”.

Under “community healthcare”, family doctors and other healthcare practitioners (like nurses, psychologists, and physiotherapists) work under one roof and collaborate on patients’ needs. And all of the administrative work that family doctors currently have to do is taken care of by support staff.

So, for example, when you go to your local community healthcare clinic, you may see your family doctor for a more complex need, or you may see a nurse practitioner who can perform many of the simpler procedures that family doctors do now, such as taking vitals and doing some examinations. 

Other doctors and healthcare professionals would also work out of the same community healthcare clinic. Imagine if you went to your family doctor seeking support for your mental health, and they could immediately refer you to a psychologist who works in the same office. They know each other and can work together to support you. The same could be true for physiotherapists, lab technicians, pharmacists, etc.

This helps relieve the pressure on the healthcare system by:

  • Freeing up family doctors to focus on the care they are specialized to provide. This means family doctors can care for more patients, and provide better quality care at the same time.
  • Providing more comprehensive and timely access to family doctors, so that ailments are caught sooner or prevented altogether. This means that other specialists like surgeons don’t have such high or complex caseloads. In other words, it helps to free up the broader healthcare system.

One more thing - I mentioned psychologists up above, because healthcare in the 21st century needs to include proper mental healthcare. It isn’t currently covered by our “universal” public healthcare system. To access mental health support, most British Columbians have to pay for it, frequently costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month. Most British Columbians cannot afford this, so go without the care they need. It’s time to change that.

To learn more about what we’re working on, you can visit the healthcare hub on our website.

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