Canadian Supreme Court Ruling Strikes Down Healthcare Restrictions

June 10, 2005

In what could be a landmark decision, Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that a patient awaiting a hip replacement operation in Quebec is entitled to obtain private health insurance to help defray the cost. Such coverage has been barred under Canada’s public healthcare system.

The ruling, which applies only to the Province of Quebec, could eventually establish a precedent for the entire country, and open the way for private carriers to substantially increase their participation in the healthcare market.

Under the Canadian system each Province is responsible for providing public medical care, and the ruling therefore applies only to Quebec. But other provinces, notably those in the West that are generally more conservative, have indicated they will press for nationwide application of the decision.

Although proponents of public healthcare have praised Canada’s system elsewhere, notably in the U.S., many doctors and their patients, complaining of long delays in the public system, have been campaigning for the introduction of a private healthcare option in Canada.

In many cases the current regulations bar doctors from attending to private patients in public hospitals and private insurance has been barred from paying for services covered by the publicly funded system.

Part of the ruling, as reported by the AP, indicated: “The evidence in this case shows that delays in the public health-care system are widespread, and that, in some serious cases, patients die as a result of waiting lists for public health care.” It also found that the denial of the private health care option could result in “physical and psychological suffering.”

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