While hospitals face deficits, payments to private health clinics grow


Provincial funding for private clinics increased by more than 212 per cent between 2022-2023 and 2023-2024, according to health advocacy group.

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While almost every hospital in Ontario is projecting a deficit, the province is steadily increasing funding to private clinics and hospitals, often paying significantly more for procedures than it would in the public system, according to the Ontario Health Coalition.

In a new report, the health advocacy group accuses the provincial government of starving public hospitals to build a private health system.

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It notes that provincial funding for private clinics, called Independent Health Facilities, increased by more than 212 per cent between 2022-2023 and 2023-2024. That number will increase further in coming years as the province expands private, standalone surgical centres for orthopedic surgery and other procedures.

Last month, Health Minister Sylvia Jones announced the expansion of private clinics for public health services, saying it will allow more procedures to be performed and will reduce wait times. She said patients will never have to pay out of pocket for OHIP-insured services.

But research by the Ontario Health Coalition and others shows that it costs the health system more to shift public health services to private clinics. Cataract surgeries connected with Kingston Health Sciences Centre, for example, cost 56 per cent more than they would have cost if the same surgeries were performed in a public hospital, according to health coalition research. The cost to the health-care system over two years was $2,036,779 compared to $1,305,360, if they had been done “in the public hospital which has underused operating rooms,” according to the report.

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In addition, the Ontario Health Coalition says that it called every private for-profit clinic in Ontario twice and the majority of the time “we caught them overbilling.”

“Patients are now routinely being charged $3,000-$4,000 or more for cataract surgeries in private clinics plus hundreds of dollars for medically unnecessary add-ons that they are persuaded are necessary, such as eye-measurement tests.” There have also been reports that double billing, in which both patients and the public health system are charged, is also happening in some clinics.

Hospitals in Ontario also paid more than $168.3 million in public funds to for-profit nursing agencies in the first three quarters of 2022-23, which is more than four times what public hospitals spent a year earlier.

“By the end of 2023, private agencies are costing our public health system up to three times more than hiring staff nurses.

“While public hospitals are staggering under the weight of unprecedented patient loads, viral outbreaks and a continued extra COVID burden, the provincial government has failed to provide a level of funding and stability that would enable them to retain staff, recruit new staff and begin to emerge from the crisis.”

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Hospital officials have told this newspaper that current hospital funding is not keeping up with reality and is forcing hospitals to put off investments in equipment and planning for the future that are crucial.

Ontario ranks last among provinces when it comes to provincial funding for public hospitals on a per capita basis, according to the Ontario Health Coalition.

The Ontario Health Coalition compiled data about operating use from hospitals across the province.

In Ottawa and Eastern Ontario, that includes:

  • Glengarry Memorial Hospital in Alexandria which has one operating room that is used one day a week for endoscopies.
  • Hawkesbury and District General Hospital which has three operating rooms but only two are in use because of staffing shortages. The two ORs are open from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
  • The Ottawa Hospital has 24 operating rooms at three sites. At the Civic and General, most close at 5 p.m. with two available for emergencies. At the Riverside, operating rooms close at 4 p.m., although a private group of surgeons has been renting operating rooms at the Riverside to do hip and knee surgeries on Saturdays.
  • Most operating rooms in Ottawa and area close for the day between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. and are not used on evenings and weekends.

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Many critics have asked why the province doesn’t pay to keep operating rooms open longer rather than support private organizations to build new standalone clinics.

The report is available at: https://www.ontariohealthcoalition.ca/wp-content/uploads/final-report-harm-to-public-hospitals-of-privatization.pdf

Hannah Jensen, a spokesperson for Health Minister Sylvia Jones said the Ford government has made “record investments” in Ontario’s publicly funded health system, including increasing the healthcare budget by more than $18 billion since 2018 and investing $80 billion in the system this year alone. She said Ontario has also added 17,000 new nurses and 2,400 new physicians to the healthcare workforce, and returning surgical backlogs to pre-pandemic levels, among other things.

“While the Ontario Health Coalition continues to be ideologically opposed to any action our government is taking to build a more connected health care system, we will continue our work that is providing better access to care, closer to home.”

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