Ontario tables health reform bill to expand private clinic procedures

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WATCH ABOVE: Ontario’s minister of health has tabled new legislation to action a series of announcements, including plans to allow more private clinics to perform OHIP surgeries and the guardrails to protect patients. Colin D’Mello explains – Feb 21, 2023

TORONTO — Ontario tabled legislation Tuesday to allow more private clinics to offer certain publicly funded surgeries and procedures, which the health minister said comes with several patient safeguards, although the government doesn’t yet know who will inspect those facilities.

Health Minister Sylvia Jones said the legislation will enable the province to designate “expert organizations” to inspect the clinics, but the province hasn’t decided on those organizations yet.

“There are a couple of options on the table,” she said Tuesday at a press conference.

“We will, through regulation, ensure that the appropriate regulator, whether that is an outside regulator or in-house, is happening.”

The legislation does set out a process for complaints, bring the new clinics under the purview of the patient ombudsman, and establish a renewal process, so the clinics are not assessed on a “one and done” basis, Jones said.

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Patients at the clinics — including new facilities that will perform hip and knee surgeries — will not have to pay out of pocket, rather the procedures will continue to be publicly funded, Jones said.

The minister announced last month that the legislation was coming, and since then opposition parties and some health-care advocates have been critical about the role of for-profit clinics. Many have raised concerns about clinics “upselling” patients, pressuring them to select services that cost more than what is covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

Under the legislation, clinics won’t be allowed to refuse service to a patient who opts for the OHIP-only service, and they won’t be allowed to charge patients an additional fee to get services faster than other people, the government said.

The legislation is aimed at reducing wait times and surgical backlogs.

“Our bold and innovative plan will significantly reduce surgical and diagnostic wait times, enhance collaboration across the health system and ensure patient safety will continue to be paramount,” Jones said.

Clinics would be required to provide details of infection prevention and control policies to the province, as well as a staffing plan “to protect the stability of doctors, nurses and other health-care workers at public hospitals.” Physicians at those clinics must also have hospital privileges, under the proposed law.

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Jones said there will be no cap on the number of new clinics the government will license.

NDP Leader Marit Stiles said the plan is not transparent or accountable enough, taking issue with the government introducing the legislation without knowing who will inspect and regulate the clinics.

“As far as I can tell, there is no oversight — there’s the promise of some oversight, sometimes, somewhere to be determined,” she said.

The legislation also includes new “as of right” rules, that would see credentials of health-care workers registered in other provinces and territories automatically recognized in Ontario, without the need to register right away with a regulatory college in this province.

The bill was the first piece of government legislation introduced as the legislature resumed Tuesday following a winter break.

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