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LETTER: The privatization of Ontario’s health care - Is that what we want?

The looming threat of increased privatization, particularly that of our hospitals, should alarm us
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SooToday received the following letter from Political Advocacy Representative Marie DellaVedova regarding the privatization of Ontario’s health care:

Ontario is embracing private health care.

More than half of Ontario’s long-term care homes belong to private corporations. Ontario has entrusted the care of our most vulnerable to real estate companies focused on reaping profits for their shareholders. Millions of dollars were paid out to shareholders of private long-term care companies as thousands of long-term care residents died from Covid-19. Most of those deaths occurred in for-profit long-term care homes.

Now, despite calls for reform, Ontario is allotting more than 18,000 long-term care beds in 30-year licenses to private corporations. Many of these corporations were responsible for thousands of long-term care infections and deaths, and have fought against regulations that would allow more inspections, more accountability and more protections for residents.

In July 2020, the Ford government passed Bill 175. It allows for the privatization of the remaining public parts of home care. Health care advocates such as the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), the Ontario Health Coalition, ARCH Disability Law Centre, the National Association of Federal Retirees and others maintain that the changes are misguided.

Competitive bidding, which was discontinued in the interests of ensuring higher quality care, is again being considered. The ONA maintains that Bill 175 “fails those who work in and rely on home and community care.”

During the pandemic the Ontario government expanded the private sector’s role in COVID testing, allowing private companies to charge patients for tests, sometimes up to $400 a test. Vaccinations too have been contracted to private companies.

On Feb. 1, 2022, Health Minister Christine Elliott announced plans to allow private clinics, usually called Independent Health Facilities, to operate private hospitals in Ontario. “We’re opening up pediatric surgeries, cancer screenings, making sure that we can let independent health facilities operate, private hospitals, all of those things are possible because we do have the capacity.” Private hospitals would mean the introduction of U.S. style for-profit hospitals, something which has been banned under Ontario law since 1973.

Two tier medicine, where profit is valued over patient health, where those who are able can buy health care at the expense of those who can’t, and where financial and human resources are drained from the public system, has been rejected by Canada in favour of a health care system rooted in equity and compassion. The public health care system is not perfect.

In Ontario, governments have drastically downsized and underfunded our hospitals. Ontario has the fewest hospital beds per capita of any province. We have the fewest nurses and the second fewest long-term care beds. Ontario funds its hospitals at the lowest rate. Shifting funding and limited health care staff from our public system to for-profit companies would increase our health care problems. Boosting health care funding and public, non-profit health care capacity would allow our public system to handle the backlog of diagnostics and surgeries.

Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office (FAO) has predicted an above average growth in the economy going into 2023. In early February the FAO reported a revenue increase nearly 10 per cent higher than expected and a budget deficit far lower than anticipated. If revenues go to tax cuts rather than an investment in public services, most of us will not enjoy the benefits of an improved economy.

In 2019, the FAO estimated that Ontario’s program spending was just over $2,000 less per person than the average of the other provinces. Per capita spending has not gone up, leaving us in need of increased funding for those services upon which we all depend. Perhaps at the top of that list is healthcare.

The elimination of license plate fees has diminished provincial revenues by 1 billion dollars. That money would have served us well by bolstering public services such as health care. During the last fiscal year, the FAO reported that Ontario spent $10.3 billion less than planned, including $1 billion less in health care.

Privatization of health care has been shown to create a lucrative revenue stream for private owners and operators at the expense of accessible, high-quality care for the rest of us, particularly the sick and vulnerable. The looming threat of increased privatization, particularly that of our hospitals, should alarm us.

Submitted by Marie DellaVedova
Political Advocacy Representative, District 3 Algoma, RTOERO

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