Two years after he said funding abortions in clinic settings could set New Brunswick down a path to privatized health-care, Premier Blaine Higgs says the province may look to expand the number of services available in clinics.
Over the past few days Higgs has said that the province is looking at all available options to improve the province’s ailing health-care system, including expanding the number of procedures that can be done in private practice clinics.
“When I mentioned the number of family docs that are all in private practice, I mean we pay them for their services in their offices,” Higgs told reporters on Wednesday.
“Well, what more can we do in their office – that we don’t do today – that we say that we have to do in a hospital setting?”
That’s a change in tune from September 2020, when Higgs said funding abortions at Clinic 554 in Fredericton could lead to a creep of privatized health-care services.
“If we’re going to suggest here … that it’s more cost effective to offer services at a private clinic then where does that stop? Does that mean we should continue to offer more and more services in private clinics and less and less services in public institutions, because that’s not what we value as a society,” Higgs said at the time.
“We value the Canada Health Act, which says we provide public health-care in public facilities, so it’s a slippery slope. If you do it for one service then where do you stop?”
New Brunswick is the only province in the country that doesn’t fund surgical abortions outside of hospitals. Clinic 554 in Fredericton was a family practice that specialized in LGBTQ2S+ health care. Surgical abortions at the clinic were not covered by Medicare and patients often had to pay out of pocket.
Publicly funded abortions are only available at three hospitals in the province: one in Bathurst and two in Moncton. Doctors are also able to prescribe medical abortions.
Clinic 554, like most other family medicine clinics in the province, was technically a private clinic. Medical director Dr. Adrian Edgar operated the clinic, paying rent and staff through the fees collected from the province for administering services to patients.
Higgs said expanding the scope of those sorts of clinics is something the province is now seriously considering.
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“The doctors are all private entrepreneurs in the fee-for-service model and they do multiple procedures,” he said. “So what we’re saying is how do we improve access by doing potentially more of that?”
Green Party health critic Megan Mitton says the premier’s change of heart shows he was never worried about privatization.
“It was never about this idea of privatization, it was about not wanting to guarantee equity in our province and not wanting people to have access to abortion services,” she said.
“At the time I said that’s how some practices work, where the doctor has an office an Medicare pays for it. It was never about that.”
While the province is examining expanding what sorts of procedures can be done at clinics, Higgs said surgical abortions will not be one them. He says the focus will be on procedures with limited access and has been told by the health authorities that abortion access in the province is adequate.
Liberal leader Susan Holt points out that in some parts of the province getting access to surgical abortion can mean traveling far from your home community.
“If you live in Edmundston or Grand Falls you are more than two hours away from one of the two hospital access points where these important services are provided and it’s extremely limited,” she said.
“Long have advocates been pushing to have these services in clinics. … It’s really disappointing to say ‘we’re going to make this expansion, but not for important abortion health services.'”
Several obstetrics physicians in the province as well as the New Brunswick Medical Society have called on the province to fund out-of-hospital abortions. The federal government says the province is in violation of the Canada Health Act and clawed back just over $140,000 in health transfer payments in 2020 and 2021.