Health minister says no 2-tier health care planned for province

The Ontario government’s transformation of the health-care system will not include two-tier care, private hospitals or making patients pay for more services out of pocket, the health minister said Friday.

Christine Elliott did a round of interviews to clarify the Progressive Conservative government’s position a day after she repeatedly refused to rule out further health system privatization at a hastily called news conference in response to NDP warnings.

The Opposition leaked a draft of a government health-care bill Thursday that would create a “super agency,” and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the legislation opened the door to privatization.

“No two tier, no,” Elliott told The Canadian Press on Friday. Nor will the government be asking people to pay for more services out of pocket, she said.

“People will pay for their health-care services through OHIP,” Elliott said. “There may be some modernization of OHIP, doing some more work using technology so that more people can receive care in their homes, for example — but that will be to enhance care for people.”

Elliott said there would be no new private hospitals, and the government is not looking at consolidating hospitals.

“One thing that I think all of us in Ontario agree on is that everyone should have access to a publicly funded health-care system, and that people should pay for their services with their OHIP card and there should be no opportunity for people to skip in line or move ahead in line over other people because of monetary considerations,” she said.

Elliott would still not rule out further private delivery of services within the public system — which currently exists, such as companies that do diagnostic testing — but said that wasn’t the focus of the health-care transformation.

The section of the draft bill that Horwath warned would lead to privatization says that the super agency “may designate a person or entity, or a group of persons or entities, as an integrated care delivery system” as long as they have the ability to deliver at least two types of health services, including hospital, primary care, home care or long-term care services.

Elliott said Horwath’s interpretation of that section was incorrect, but she would not say what it is actually intended to do.

The draft bill would allow the government to transfer the responsibilities of organizations including any local health integration network, Cancer Care Ontario, eHealth Ontario and the Trillium Gift of Life Network to a super agency.

The “super agency” would be in charge of managing health service needs across Ontario, health system operational management and co-ordination, quality improvement, knowledge dissemination, patient relations, digital health and activities relating to tissue donation and transplants.

Elliott said she wants to make sure health-care money is spent wisely.

“It’s a huge budget with $61 billion being spent, but study after study has indicated that we’re not getting the best value for those health-care dollars,” she said. “We want to make sure that as much money and resources as possible is directed to front-line care.”

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser warned about the consequences of a centralized system, though he said he wasn’t there to defend the local health integration networks, created by the Liberals.

“What I’m here to say is that the future of health care is community based,” he said. “We have to respond to the regions’ needs in the regions because they define what their challenge is and what they can to do have a solution.”

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