April 25, 2014
The Toronto doctor who recently grabbed headlines across North America for defending Canada's health system before an ornery U.S. Senate wants Ontarians to take notice of a legal showdown on the other side of this country that she warns could affect the future of Medicare nationwide.
Dr. Danielle Martin, a founder of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, is sounding the alarm over a B.C. Supreme Court case centred on the question of whether private clinics have the right to extra-bill patients for medical services.
"In my view (it's) the biggest threat to medicare in this generation, and we need to do everything we can to protect our health system from the damage that its outcome could set in motion," she plans to tell an audience on Friday in a speech, an advance copy of which was given exclusively to the Star.
The case in question involves former Canadian Medical Association president Dr. Brian Day, who has launched a constitutional challenge of B.C.'s ban on private health care. It will be heard by the Supreme Court of British Columbia beginning in September. Canadian Doctors for Medicare has intervener status.
"This is not just a British Columbia issue," Martin plans to say in her speech. "The ramifications will be felt across our entire country. If the case goes to the Supreme Court (of Canada), there's the threat of having the Canada Health Act itself under threat."
Martin will be speaking to about 600 members at a meeting of the Unifor Ontario Regional Council in Port Elgin. Unifor is Canada's largest private-sector union, with more than 305,000 members.
Depending on the outcome of a vote, Unifor may donate $25,000 to Canadian Doctors for Medicare and the B.C. Health Coalition to help cover the costs of the legal battle.
Last month, a video of Martin appearing before a U.S. Senate subcommittee went viral. She was part of a panel of international experts testifying about their respective single-payer health systems.
She won praise for her calm handling of hostile questions from a Republican senator who was clearly not a fan of Canada's health system. He grilled her about whether Canadian doctors were exiting the public system, about Canadians going to the United States for treatment and about whether patients were dying on waiting lists.
Martin clarified misconceptions and said that, despite its problems, Canada's single-payer system has widespread support.
The issue of long waits for medical care is central to Day's legal challenge. Five patients have joined his lawsuit as plaintiffs, all arguing their health suffered while facing long waits in the public system.
Martin, a vice-president at Women's College Hospital, acknowledges that long waits are a problem, but argues that paying out of pocket for faster care is not the solution.
"We Canadians believe deeply that we have a right to health care based on need and not contingent on the ability to pay. That belief is reflected in the structure of our universal, single-payer health care system," she says.
Martin's speech tells of how her own activism grew out of coming from a family of labour activists.
"I grew up in a community of social justice activists who truly believed, and continue to believe, in the power of collective action to change the world for the better . . . Workers can use their collective power to fight for more than just the rights commonly associated with organized labour. The right to equitable access to health care (is) worthy of your efforts."
Credit: Theresa Boyle Toronto Star