Fee vs. free
There’s also the revenue involved: in 2015-16, Eastern Health’s gross revenue from patient and visitor parking fees was $1.57 million.
In Prince Edward Island, it was the $250,000 question. But in the end, the province’s minister of health, Robert Henderson, said the answer was a matter of fairness.
“We decided that this was an issue that we think that will help improve access to services and not be an impediment, especially for low income Islanders who do have financial challenges here in the province. So this is a way to level the playing field,” Henderson told the CBC as, on July 1, that province dropped parking fees at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for guests and visitors.
Cancelling hospital parking fees is up for discussion in Nova Scotia now, too, where a much bigger figure is involved - parking fees at hospitals in that province bring in almost $10 million annually. While long-term patients and outpatients receive special rates, other visitors and patients cough up a daily parking maximum of $14.50 a day.
The Nova Scotia Health Coalition told CBC Nova Scotia that it’s just plain wrong.
“One of the cornerstones of Canada’s public health-care system is the fact that you should be able to access it equally regardless of where you live or how much money is in your pocket,” the coalition’s provincial co-ordinator, Chris Parsons, said on Sunday. “It’s a burden that we think is really unfair to put on families.”
So what about this province? The argument has been made here before: cancer survivor Tom Badcock even took Eastern Health to court in 2013 over parking fees and tickets, saying the fees are essentially a charge to see a doctor, and are therefore a violation of the Canada Health Act. That’s a position that the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) agreed with: in a 2011 editorial, they suggested the fees are a barrier to health care, and a not-so-well-hidden user fee.
More recently, the fees in St. John’s have been in the news as patients who have to return to the hospital regularly for treatment - especially cancer patients - have argued they deserve easier access to hospital services because of their inability to walk long distances.
There have been several reasons given over the years for keeping the fees in place - one reason, in fact, for an increase in prices was the need to keep the spaces away from other people. That is, to keep Memorial University students from filling up cheaper parking spots in Health Sciences lots.
There’s also the revenue involved: in 2015-16, Eastern Health’s gross revenue from patient and visitor parking fees was $1.57 million. Its estimated gross revenue in 2016-17 is $1.39 million. The authority says parking-fee revenues will be put toward upgrades of parking lots and roads at Eastern Health facilities.
Critics of the CMAJ editorial pointed out that, in Ontario, only about 74 per cent of hospital costs are covered by the government. The rest comes from rentals, fees for private rooms and, yes, parking.
Those who would have the fees dropped - and those, like Henderson, who are making sure the fees disappear - certainly have a valid point.