B.C. Supreme Court grants big win to private health clinics

Private health clinics in British Columbia were handed a victory by the B.C. Supreme Court on Friday, Nov. 23, when the court granted an injunction that would prevent clinics from having to close their doors. 

The injunction is only the most recent chapter in a long legal battle fought by private health clinics to be permitted to charge for medically necessary health care. In the injunction, the court ordered the provincial government not to enforce amendments to the Medicare Protection Act (MPA) that would have caused private health clinics to shut their doors until their validity is established by the courts or once the ongoing trial is complete.

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The amendments that came into force on Oct. 1 would prevent private clinics from providing care deemed to be medically necessary and is aimed at stopping a two-tiered health care system composed of both private and public sector actors.

Cambie Surgery Centre and Specialist Referral Clinic (Vancouver) Inc. were the two clinics that applied for the injunction. Each clinic is owned by Brian Day, a surgeon who has been embroiled in a decade’s long constitutional battle to create a two-tiered healthcare system where both private and public sector options are provided.

In a 74-page decision by Justice Janice Winteringham, she outlined that the injunction was filed to prevent these clinics from closing shop and adding more patients to the public system. 

In her decision, Winteringham said that part of the reason for the injunction was because the private clinics had established that some patients will suffer serious psychological or physical harm while waiting for health services. She also concluded that the private clinics had convincingly argued that some physicians would not provide private-pay medical services after the MPA amendments take effect. As a result, patients would have to wait longer for medically necessary health services which could have been available if not for the MPA amendments.

Despite the injunctions, Winteringham highlighted that the court concluded that the MPA amendments are directed to the public good and serve a valid public purpose. Winteringham granted the injunction until June 1, 2019 under the expectation that the constitutional challenge would be concluded by April 2019.

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