The Canadian Health Coalition says cataract surgeries and other procedures should be done in public hospitals and public centres.
A proposed private eye care centre in Corner Brook would bleed out — not shore up — the province’s public health system, according to a national health-care advocacy group.
The Canadian Health Coalition says private surgical centres — similar to the one proposed in Corner Brook — cherry-pick the best doctors and the easiest cases, leaving government-run hospitals in worse shape than before.
“They leave the harder [cases] to the public health care system … It’s only going to balloon-out wait times in the public sector,” said James Hutt, an interim director with the Canadian Health Coalition.
Ophthalmologist Justin French has proposed a private eye-surgery centre in Corner Brook, which would focus on cataract surgeries and charge the provincial government through MCP. That means he would not be charging patients out-of-pocket. Dr. Justin French has said he will leave the province if his surgery centre proposal is not accepted by government.
His idea was initially rejected by Health Minister John Haggie, but French met last Wednesday with government officials to discuss his proposal again after Premier Dwight Ball promised further consideration.
Hutt said this idea — a private clinic which pledges only to take payments through the public system — is not new, and does not show a lot of promise.
“In these private clinics, you have to make a profit, right?” he told the St. John’s Morning Show. “Often it means taking faster or taking easier cases. So they don’t do any complicated cases, they take young, healthy patients.”
“We think it’s better to keep it in the public health care system … As opposed to trying to get mingled up with profit, and allowing people to get rich at the same time.”
Hutt said he does not believe that private clinics reduce wait times overall, which was part of French’s pitch to the government. He promised he could build a facility himself, deliver the service cheaper than in a hospital, and cut down on wait times on the west coast of Newfoundland.
Hutt said that the provincial government and the Department of Health should also crack down on any illegal billing by eye surgeons that’s already happening in the province, or any private surgeries happening outside of government’s view.
Health Minister John Haggie said in mid-February he’s seen reports that people have been illegally charged as much as $4,000 for cataract surgery. That procedure is covered by the province’s Medical Care and Hospital Insurance Act, and it’s against regulations to demand patients pay on their own.
Patients have been warned not to have cataract surgeries performed outside of a hospital, and not to pay directly for them.
The provincial government has established a hotline at 1-833-253-8491 for people to call if they believe they were illegally charged for the procedure. So far 83 people have indicated they paid for the surgery in a private clinic, according to the Department of Health.
Hutt said private eye care centres can prey on vulnerable patients, who might not know about the rules and their rights.
“We saw that in one clinic patients were charged $160 just for eye drops. And these patients are often seniors, or people who don’t know their exact rights, and the private clinics are taking advantage of them.”
Under the Medical Care and Hospital Insurance Act, cataract surgery is not permitted to be done outside of a hospital.
The province has set up an information line to deal with the issue, so anybody who has had the surgery in a private clinic, or has been billed directly for the surgery, is asked to call 1-833-253-8491