Private health care battle draws to a close after a decade in B.C.

VANCOUVER — A constitutional challenge by a doctor who argues patients should have the right to pay for private care if the public system leaves them waiting too long is expected to wrap up today in a Vancouver courtroom.

Dr. Brian Day began his battle a decade ago against the British Columbia government.

The case started in B.C. Supreme Court in 2016 and final arguments are scheduled to come to a close today.

Day is an orthopedic surgeon who legally opened the Cambie Surgery Centre in Vancouver in 1996.

He says he opened the centre to create more operating-room time for surgeons who couldn’t get it in public hospitals.

However, the facility has been operating since 2003 in violation of unproclaimed provisions of the provincial Medicare Protection Act.

Joe Arvay told the court on Thursday that Day’s main objective is to cherry pick parts of the Medicare Protection Act after it is abolished. The act requires doctors to opt out of billing the government for work in the public system if they are also earning more money in private clinics.

Arvay said a victory for Day would usher in a complicated and expensive administrative regime dependent on public funds for the benefit of physicians wishing to expand private services that would not be regulated by the government.

“The plaintiffs are not seeking to opt out of the public system in its entirety,” Arvay said. “Even in the private market they wish to establish, they would continue to benefit from society’s investment in health-care professionals and public funding of the entire health-care infrastructure.”

Arvay said doctors employed in the public system are known to refer patients to themselves in private clinics where they also work in order to bypass wait times that apply to everyone who can’t afford to pay out of pocket or through private insurance.

He said physicians are paid more money in the private system than they earn in hospitals so they stand to financially benefit twice from such a scheme.

Arvay represents an intervener group that includes two physicians, Canadian Doctors for Medicare, the BC Health Coalition and two patients.

Day maintains that patients who have waited too long for an operation or diagnostic tests in the public system are deprived of timely care and should have a right to private treatment under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2020.

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