Doctors demand action on private health insurance

    TORONTO, March 12 /CNW Telbec/ - Canadian Doctors for Medicare today
called on the federal and provincial governments to immediately take all
necessary steps to stop the spread of private health insurance for medically
necessary services in British Columbia.
    "The recent exposé that Acure Health Corp is selling 'Medical Access
Insurance' for services already covered under Medicare undermines the public
health care system to the detriment of the vast majority of Canadians, and
contravenes the Canada Health Act", said Dr. Danielle Martin, Chair of
Canadian Doctors for Medicare.
    "It is illegal in British Columbia to sell private duplicate insurance
for services already covered by MSP. If it turns out that ACURE has been
collecting illegal insurance premiums, the money should be returned to the
consumers," said Dr. Martin.
    "It's not ethical to collect illegal payments from unsuspecting
patients," said Dr. Bob Woollard, a CDM Board member and head of Family
Medicine at the University of British Columbia. "If it turns out that opted in
physicians are unaware that they have been collecting private insurance
payments from Acure for MSP insured services, they, too, should return their
fees," added Dr Woollard.
    "Those who think private health insurance is a panacea for our system
should take a look at the Australian experience. The major beneficiaries there
have been higher income Australians, private insurance companies, private
hospitals and medical specialists - and not the wider Australian community,"
said Dr. Martin.
    In a 2004 study, Leonie Segal of Monash University`s Centre for Health
Economics found evidence that Australia's heavily subsidized private system
has been "wasteful, inefficient and inequitable". The estimated cost of
government policies to support it total more than $2,500 million. Among
Segal's findings:

    - Private insurance has been largely ineffective and inefficient as a
      means of taking pressure off the public system
    - Competition for physicians and nurses may make it harder for public
      hospitals to meet patient needs
    - Where a private system runs alongside a universal public system,
      private hospitals have no incentives to provide a full range of
      services, thus they can focus on more profitable services

    "There is a concerted campaign by the proponents of commercialized care to
ignore this type of evidence and try to convince Canadians that private health
insurance is the way out of Canada's health care 'challenges'," said Dr.
Martin. "The only way to do that is to keep plugging the suggestion that the
system is failing, and that it is in 'crisis'. Yet despite its challenges, the
evidence shows that a universal single payer system is fairer and more
cost-effective than other systems of providing care, and is massively
supported by Canadians."
    In its 2006, in its discussion paper "It's About Access", the Canadian
Medical Association reviewed all the evidence and found:

    - Private insurance for medically necessary physician and hospital
      services does not improve access to publicly insured services
    - Does not lower costs or improve quality of care
    - Can increase wait times for those who are not privately insured; and
    - Could exacerbate human resource shortages in the public system.

    Last year the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a study
showing how successful initiatives in team-based care in B.C., Alberta,
Saskatchewan and Ontario have produced dramatic cuts in waiting times for
surgery, which can undoubtedly be emulated across the country.
    "This is where the focus should be," said Dr. Martin, "not on trying to
decimate our current system, which Canadians are justifiably proud of, so that
insurance companies and private hospitals can increase their profits at the
expense of average Canadians."

For further information:

For further information: Dr. Danielle Martin, Board Chair, Canadian
Doctors for Medicare, (416) 351-3300

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