Photo credit: Delphi234/Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Delphi234/Wikimedia Commons

As we have mentioned before, Canadians are incredibly proud of their public healthcare system. While it’s not without fault – wait times can be long; concrete numbers around medical errors are high, and difficult to come by; medical malpractice lawsuits remain difficult to prosecute – Canadian healthcare generally offers affordable medical attention to those who need it in a timely, efficient fashion.

The system works well enough that more than 2,000 American physicians signed a recent proposal calling for the adoption of “Canadian-style Medicare” across the United States. The Physician’s Proposal, published this May by the American Journal of Public Health, criticizes several fundamental aspects of the American healthcare system.

“Caring relationships are increasingly taking a back seat to the financial prerogatives of insurance firms, corporate providers, and Big Pharma,” said Dr. Adam Gaffney, co-chair of the working group that produced the Physician’s Report in an interview with U.S. News. “Our patients are suffering and our profession is being degraded and disfigured by these mercenary interests.”

“Our patients can’t afford care and don’t have access to the care they need, while the system is ever more wasteful, throwing away money on bureaucratic expenses and absurd prices from the drug companies,” David Himmelstein, a professor in the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College, told the Guardian.

But despite emphatic criticism from American doctors, some members of Canada’s medical community believe multi-payer, privatized medicine is the best means of delivering care. In British Columbia, Dr. Brian Day is engaged in a legal dispute that could bring private health insurance to the Canadian mainstream.

Currently, the Canada Health Act discourages private payment for necessary medical services in order to limit inequality in the standards of care available to Canadians. Under the legislation, if patients are charged for necessary medical care, the federal government must withhold the same amount of money from cash transfers to the province or territory in which the procedure took place. Most provinces have passed legislation to back-up the federal stance.

Dr. Day owns both the Cambie Surgery Centre and the Specialist Referral Clinic in Vancouver. He argues that the for-profit, investor-owned facilities give consumers more healthcare choices and better access to swift medical attention. In his lawsuit, Dr. Day argues that limiting the amount physicians can charge infringes on patients’ right to life, liberty and security. The patients who can afford to pay for faster care, he argues, should have access to it. This stance is at the core of the United States’ healthcare system, which supporters see as less expensive to taxpayers and less bogged down by centralized bureaucracy.

In arguing against Dr. Day, the British Columbia Attorney General plans to cite evidence ‘that allowing a parallel private payment system, and a physician dual practice, in an otherwise publicly-funded health care system, negatively affects these systems,’ according to the University of Manitoba’s Evidence Network. The Attorney General will state that it has found no causal connection between limits to private payments and the deprivation of life, liberty, and security, and that the changes proposed by Dr. Day could ‘reduce the availability, quality, and timeliness’ of healthcare in British Columbia.


Global evidence supports the BC Attorney General’s position. According to the Toronto Star, privatized health insurance has not improved “long waiting times for diagnosis and treatment” in Sweden, and the introduction of private insurance in Australia led to unequal access to elective surgery. “Divisions in equitable access to care,” the Star reports, “is one of the biggest challenges now facing countries that have adopted multi-payer systems.”

Additionally, multi-payer systems are also often linked to higher healthcare costs. For instance, the American health insurance sector spends approximately 18 per cent of healthcare dollars on administrative costs, whereas Canada spends about 2 per cent.

In a release, Dr. Marcia Angell, a co-author of the Physician’s Proposal, bluntly summed up the economic perils of privatized healthcare, saying: “we can no longer afford to waste the vast resources we do on the administrative costs, executive salaries, and profiteering of the private insurance system. We get too little for our money. It’s time to put those resources into real health care for everyone.”

While Canada’s healthcare system is far from perfect, Canadians benefit from not having to choose between their wallets and their lives. Instituting a privatized health insurance system could increase wait times and restrict access to healthcare for our most vulnerable populations, while making life easier for the wealthiest members of society.

If you or a member of your family has suffered an injury as a result of medical negligence or malpractice, please contact Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers’ Medical Malpractice Group today. We can help you understand your legal standing and guide you on your first steps to recovery.

Greg Neinstein