Ontario Health Coalition sign, May 30, 2023. (Photo by Maureen Revait) Ontario Health Coalition sign, May 30, 2023. (Photo by Maureen Revait)

Health Coalition Co-Chair says Grey Bruce not immune to pressures from private clinics

A damning report released by the Ontario Health Coalition has brought to light concerning practices in for-profit private clinics across the province.

Titled "Illegal, Unlawful and Unethical: Case Studies of Patients Charged for Medical Care in Ontario’s Private Clinics," the report reveals evidence of hundreds of patients being unlawfully billed for essential medical treatments.

During news conferences held by the Health Coalition, patients shared harrowing stories of being charged exorbitant fees, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars, for procedures in these clinics. Most affected are seniors on fixed incomes, with reports of charges up to $8,000 for eye surgeries and tests, including one individual who had to return to work at 71 to cover the costs.

For Grey Bruce Health Coalition Co-Chair Brenda Scott, protections offered under the Canada Health Act and under the Commitment to the Future of Medicare act are on "shaky ground."

"I think we need to be careful, and be asking a lot more questions when we are referred to different services" said Scott, who says the cataract clinics are what they're the most familiar with. "(Seniors) may feel like they're obligated to accept advice that they're given, even when it doesn't seem to make sense."

A province-wide survey conducted by the Coalition found that out of 231 patients surveyed, 120 had been unlawfully charged by private clinics. The report includes eighteen detailed case studies illustrating patients' experiences.

Scott feels that locally, users of these services should be "giving it the smell test."

"If it doesn't feel right and it doesn't sound right, you do have other options, including staying within the public health system," she said. "As citizens of Canada, we often put ourselves in a situation where we would say 'Oh thank god we don't live in the (United) States where we might lose our house if we had excessive medical bills', but we're starting to see those types of experiences here."

Among the reported practices, patients were coerced into paying for supposedly necessary but OHIP-covered surgeries, faced prolonged wait times unless they paid for private services, and were misled into paying for additional tests and services deemed unnecessary.

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