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Private health care won’t reduce wait times — it may raise them, report says

Posted: November 4, 2023

(November 3, 2023)

By: Eric Stober, Global News

A new report released Thursday says that privatization of health care in Ontario won’t reduce wait times but may actually increase them.

That’s because for-profit centres could as well face the staffing shortages that have plagued the public sector, and any talent that is attracted to the private model will in turn reduce staff in public hospitals, according to the report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“Increasing surgical and diagnostic capacity depends on the availability of qualified staff, which is not magically increased by the addition of profit,” report author and Simon Fraser University health policy researcher Andrew Longhurst said in a statement Thursday.

“Expanded outsourcing is likely to worsen public hospital staffing shortages that cause longer waits.”

The problems of creating more for-profit health care include higher costs, less staff in the public system, as well as upselling, self-referrals and unnecessary procedures, Longhurst said.

University of Toronto health policy professor Raisa Deber told Global News that private health care differs from many other services because it is based on need, so for-profit centres could overcharge or upsell services that aren’t necessary given the consumer’s lack of knowledge but need for care.

“One of the problems that you run into is that market forces don’t work in health care,” she said.

“People get very nervous when you start throwing for-profit into the mix because it gives absolutely the wrong incentives to the providers.”

She pointed to the pharmaceutical industry as an example, where drugs can be sold for higher costs to drive profit and are still bought by consumers because they are needed.

While privatization of some services is being considered in provinces like Ontario and others due to long wait times and backlogs in the public system, the report noted that wait times in Ontario for “many priority procedures” are the shortest in Canada, such as for hip and knee replacement in 2022.

In May, the Ontario government passed Bill 60, which encourages the growth of for-profit health care for some surgeries and imaging. Less than two per cent of surgeries in Ontario were done in for-profit facilities in 2021-2022, CCPA said.

Rather than turn to privatization, the report recommends efforts to improve the public system, “not undermine it.”

“Ontario does not lack the physical space and equipment to improve wait times for surgeries and medical imaging; what is missing is the health care workforce and funding necessary to do the work,” Longhurst said.

The report recommends funding and staffing underused public hospital operating rooms and performing surgeries during the evening and weekends, as well as increasing hospital bed capacity.