This case is the most serious threat that the public health care system has ever faced. It seeks to erase from our laws the fundamental concept of care based on need, not ability to pay.
Cambie Surgeries CEO Brian Day launched this constitutional challenge to public health care in BC in 2009 after he learned his private for-profit surgical clinics were going to be audited by the BC Government. The audit was triggered by dozens of patients who complained that they had been illegally over-billed at Cambie Surgeries clinics. An audit later revealed that Day’s clinics had overcharged patients by almost half a million dollars in just 30 days. Instead of paying back the money his clinics illegally over-billed, Brian Day marshalled a group of private, for-profit clinics and a few of his patients to file a constitutional challenge.
The corporate plaintiffs are seeking to make health care more profitable by striking down the key protections in BC's Medicare Protection Act (Sections 14, 17, and 18). These provisions maintain private and public health care as two separate systems with no financial connection, and limit preferential access to essential health care services for financial gain.
The decisions in the case could fundamentally shift how health care is delivered in Canada to a US-style health care system. To enable us to administer our publicly funded health care system on our own terms, the Canadian government negotiated important protections within our Free Trade deals. However, these exemptions have been grandfathered in and are based on the public, not-for-profit character of Canada's health care system. If the Cambie case is successful and the nature of our system is transformed, these protections would no longer apply and could never be restored. This would allow the full force of US private insurance firms to enter the Canadian market, bringing with them the profit-first ethic that has severely compromised care in the U.S.
The case will almost certainly advance to the Supreme Court of Canada. The outcome will impact all provinces and territories because the rules the plaintiffs seek to strike down are central to the Canada Health Act and every provincial health care insurance plan.