Thursday, February 01, 2007

More medical negligence

The story surprisingly seems to have been overlooked following Tuesday's Question Period. But Tony Clement has apparently backed off even the Cons' meek initial response to Quebec's plan to facilitate health care double-dipping, leaving any enforcement of the Canada Health Act to the same provincial government which has already indicated its intention to allow patients to pay their way to the front of the line:
Ms. Penny Priddy (Surrey North, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, public health advocates are worried about a wait times plan in Quebec that will have far reaching effects. The new legislation would create a new industry in Quebec: for profit hospitals being paid for by public money. The health minister must immediately take steps to protect our public medicare system. What action has he taken so far?

Hon. Tony Clement (Minister of Health and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, as the Prime Minister indicated during the election campaign and as we have indicated as a government, we support the Canada Health Act and the principles of the Canada Health Act which include universal accessibility and universal coverage.

I had a conversation with my Quebec counterpart this morning. He is investigating the situation involving a Montreal clinic. I have every confidence that the Government of Quebec will support the Canada Health Act and universal accessibility.
In case there's any doubt, that's the same Quebec counterpart who's himself responsible for the legislation which formed the subject matter of Priddy's question. Which means that in addition to failing to respond to the question (though in fairness, the diversion was atypically from one relevant issue to another), Clement's answer signals that the Cons are perfectly content to let the provinces have the sole say as to whether or not their health-care schemes meet federal standards.

And that would be bad enough if the problem was merely the Cons' dereliction of duty. But then there's also the question of whether there's any reason for "confidence that the Government of Quebec will support the Canada Health Act". So let's take a look at what Couillard's office has had to say as to what standards it's concerned about:
When asked whether such fees were legal, an aide to Health Minister Philippe Couillard responded that the new law will resolve the question.

"Under Bill 33, accessory fees will be outlined in detail - what can be an accessory fee and what cannot," said Isabelle Merizzi.
In other words, Clement is entirely willing to leave the enforcement of federal standards to the judgment of a provincial government which (a) doesn't even consider those standards to be relevant to the question of what is and isn't legal, and (b) is itself responsible for one of the two likely breaches of federal law in question (and indeed the one which Clement was asked about initially).

Needless to say, any continued neglect by the federal government can only damage single-payer health care in Canada - both by allowing private funding to take a larger role, and by signalling to provinces that they can ignore the Canada Health Act with impunity. Which means that Priddy, the NDP and anybody else who values universal accessibility should be doing everything possible to highlight the danger both in Couillard's legislation, and in Clement's complete refusal to do anything other than pass the issue off to the source of the problem.

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