Time for a real debate
The new president of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Robert Ouellet, has made it clear he plans to use his position to champion the role of private health care. With an election underway, Dr. Ouellet will get the perfect platform and, if Canadians are fortunate, they’ll finally get a real debate about the opportunities that exist to improve public health care.
“Private delivery is an accepted practice everywhere in the world, and it’s time Canada accepted this reality,” Dr. Ouellet said in an interview after being elected to represent the 67,000-member CMA. “My whole career has been about resolving access issues. This is my battle horse.”
Like many of the CMA’s members, Ouellet believes a greater role for private health care will provide more choice and actually make the public system operate more effectively and efficiently.
“We have one of the most costly and least-efficient systems of any industrialized country,” said Ouellet, who points out that while overall health care costs have quadrupled over the past 20 years, the doctor-to-patient ratio has dropped.
“Does it make sense, in the face of a shortage of operating rooms, to ban surgeons, who provide 90 per cent of their services in a hospital, from performing five to 10 per cent of their surgeries in a private clinic?”
Ouellet has been a strong and vocal proponent of private health care going back to 1987 when he was part of a group that established Canada’s first computed tomography scan clinic. As the head of radiology at Cite de la sante hospital in Laval, Que., he became frustrated when he found it would take two to three years to get government approval for a CT scanner. Instead, the group bought the scanner and contracted out their services. Not only was the scanner up and running quickly, but patients also received the service in a few days as opposed to several months.
Later, Ouellet and his group expanded into an MRI clinic and two diagnostic radiology clinics which provide care through the public system and also if someone wants to buy the service — something the new CMA head calls “consumer choice.”
“The fact is that the private system exists and is here to stay. We need to accommodate it in order for the public system to prosper,” Ouellet told the CMA.
Ouellet added that he isn’t advocating either the end of medicare or the introduction an American-style system, but a universal system that’s accessible and responsive.
“Let me be clear,” he said. “I am not talking about privatizing the health care system. I am talking about improving it by allowing the private sector to intervene in a complementary way, in areas where the public sector is unable to provide services.”
Ouellet’s comments echo those of the Supreme Court of Canada when it ruled three years ago that the Quebec government could not prevent people from paying for private insurance for health care procedures covered under medicare. Essentially, the Court ruled that health care delayed is health care denied.
The court rejected the argument that private options would erode the public system, and instead said the opposite was true in countries that allow for a mixture of private and public care.
Yet despite the Supreme Court, Canadian governments have been reluctant to embrace the role private care can play as a tool to provide better overall care and relieve pressure on the overburdened pubic system.
It’s time for a real debate on the benefits of private health care as Canadians get ready to go to the polls.