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LETTER: Hospital paid parking should not be a deterrent. But it is

Scotland got rid of hospital parking fee, arguing that hospital parking fees went against the principle of health care being free of out-of-pocket cost, as well as being a source of stress for patients, says reader
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SooToday has received the following letter to the editor from Peter Chow on the problems paid parking at the hospital cause for patients and visitors.

Hospital paid parking is a user fee and a real deterrent to the most vulnerable in society from accessing health care.

Hospital parking fees for patients range from $6 at Sault Area Hospital to more than $30 in downtown Toronto. Hamilton Health Sciences and Hamilton’s St. Joseph’s Healthcare announced a 25 per cent rate hike to $25. And tickets for infractions at metered lots can run to even $80.

A Canadian Medical Association Journal editorial addressed parking fees in 2011. “Parking fees amount to a user fee in disguise and flout the health policy objective of the Canada Health Act... This is parking-centred health care... not patient-centred health care."

Compared to other industrialized countries, Canada has the lowest score for timely access to a primary health care provider, and consequently, the highest rate of patients accessing primary medical care at the hospital emergency department rather than their family doctor.

The Ontario Nurses’ Association, argues it is essentially a user fee. "Parking costs make people think twice about visiting patients or even going to the emergency department. Some people will ration their health care. It is unmanageable for many people, particularly those on fixed incomes. And even for those that aren’t, they may struggle to pay it.”

Scotland got rid of hospital parking fees 10 yrs ago, the government seeing it as a matter of principle, arguing that hospital parking fees went against the principle of health care being free of out-of-pocket cost, as well as being a source of stress for patients.

Hospital parking fees inspired an Ontario Liberal election campaign pledge in 2014, a promise to “work with hospitals to cap or cut parking fees for those who must visit the hospital frequently, either due to a medical condition or to regularly visit a loved one. Our government is going to bring in a realistic plan to help Ontarians with their living costs today as it pertains to hospital parking fees. This is a priority for our government."

But at the same time, cash-strapped, chronically underfunded hospitals have grown dependent on the revenue parking provides.

In 2016 Brandy Sharp Young, manager for communications with SAH, said the hospital relies on parking fees to offset ongoing maintenance and generate revenue to support patient care programs. “Hospitals, including SAH rely on parking fees as a revenue source to supplement government funding.”

The government of Ontario announced that hospitals that charge over $10 a day for parking would be required to offer discounted passes for five-, 10- or 30-day use at a discount of 50 per cent the daily rate.

The Ontario Hospital Association said the cuts to parking fees couldn't come at a worse time for hospitals.

"As hospitals continue to absorb hundreds of millions in operating costs without an inflationary increase, it is increasingly difficult for them to invest in other important health care priorities, such as capital improvements to their buildings, new medical and diagnostic equipment, and information and communications technology," read the release.

The Minister of Health and Long-Term Care says hospital paid parking should never be a deterrent to going to the hospital.

But it is.

Peter Chow