Alberta ban on private health insurance challenged in Calgary court

by Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

CALGARY – Alberta’s ban on private insurance for medically necessary services is being challenged in a Calgary court.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is supporting two men who say they were forced to pay out-of-pocket to get health care they needed in the United States.

They say they couldn’t get help in a timely fashion in Alberta’s public system.

Dr. Darcy Allen and Richard Cross have filed separate applications in Court of Queen’s Bench that question whether the law is constitutional.

“Darcy Allen was deprived of his (Charter) Section 7 rights of security of person,” said centre lawyer John Carpay.

He said Alberta’s out-of-country health services committee also failed to reimburse Cross, who sought treatment for back pain in Arizona when no such treatment was available in Canada.

“The out-of-country health services committee is not functioning as a safety valve for people waiting too long for health care,” he said.

Carpay wants a 2005 Supreme Court of Canada decision expanded to Alberta. That decision struck down a Quebec law that banned private insurance for medically necessary services.

The case involved Quebec doctor Jacques Chaoulli and his patient George Zeliotis, who argued that the ban on buying private insurance for health care infringed on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as on the Quebec Charter of Rights.

Zeliotis argued his year-long wait for hip replacement in 1997 violated his rights to life, liberty and security as defined under both charters.

Allen was forced to give up his dental practice in Okotoks, Alta., in 2009 due to what he says was extreme, debilitating and continuous back pain. He eventually paid $77,503 for back surgery in Montana.

He said what started in 2007 as a seemingly minor injury from playing hockey turned into around-the-clock pain that made normal tasks such as shovelling snow or tying shoelaces impossible. Allen finally received a referral for surgery in 2009, but no operation could be performed until September 2010. Then his anticipated surgery date was pushed back to June 2011.

“I’m hoping eventually that we can find a way to make this system work more efficiently,” Allen said outside court.

“I don’t want to see anyone go through what I did. I was able to push myself through the system fairly rapidly and even at two years that is still a year-and-a-half too long for somebody in my position.”

Allen said this is not about the money he spent.

“If that door opens at some time in the future and I’m able to recover some of the costs that would be great, but that is not the purpose of this,” he said.

“This is a matter of trying to get better access to health care for everybody that’s out there.”

The other complainant is Cross, a businessman from Calgary, who says he lived in a state of severe and continuous pain from 2006 until 2010 when he received back surgery in Arizona.

His request to have the $24,236 cost reimbursed to him was denied by Alberta’s out-of-country health services appeal panel, which ruled the surgery he had was available in Canada.

Justice centre spokeswoman Carol Crosston said have access to a waiting list is not the same thing as access to health care.

“If we can help more individuals get access to care then that is what this is all about.”




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Alberta ban on private health insurance challenged in Calgary court

  1. October 17, 2013

    The Ideal of Socialism is so attractive – shimmering like a welcoming Beacon – a wonderful soft Light of Benevolence in the encircling Gloom – that those with great Hearts and limited Intellects are drawn to it, Wings fluttering, and Antennae submissively a-quiver.

    Alas, soft, welcoming, and benevolent Lights must be assessed very carefully, for sometimes they have the Power to singe, and, ultimately, to destroy.

    For Socialism promises Equality, but can provide only Poverty and Mediocrity.

    This is precisely the Case with Canada’s Health Care System, which pretends to Equality, but exacts the costs of Excellence and Efficiency.

    We say “pretends” because it is well-known that Equality is found only among the Populace of Unicorns. In Fact, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Clients of Workers’ Compensation Boards, those within the medical System, those of Prominence, and those who know influential People all manage to manipulate the System to their Advantage.

    Everyone knows that Mr. Pooh-Bah will not die, unattended, in the Emergency Waiting Room.

    And, like all centrally planned Systems, it is a Procrustean Bed. Patients are not free, independent individual Citizens, able to choose Doctors as they would Veterinarians, Auto Mechanics, or Hairstylists.

    Rather, they must be Supplicants, anxiously polite, waiting to be vouchsafed an Interview, an Assessment, or a Procedure.

    The Price of a bogus Equality is a loss of Freedom, of a Sense of Independence, and a Mountain of Mediocrity and Inefficiency. Ours is a System which cannot put the Patient first, because it is the Government who pays the Piper, and, correspondingly, calls the Tune most pleasing to its own Ear. The Patient is but a Piano Key to the Disharmony of bureaucratic Practice.

    (From the Diary of Dr. Idel Dreimer)

    • I wonder if there will ever be an end to the short sighted unabashed nonsense rhetoric conservatives spew as knowledge as if it’s not the most ludicrous destructive and vile vitriol ever put forth by the psychopathic minds that dream it up.

      This pie eyed, glad handing, ingratiating way conservatives come to us with these grandiose notions that private companies with their profit motive can do a damn thing better, other than making rich people happy/healthier faster, instead of adjusting and fixing a marvelous world renowned health care system whose only motive is to actually CARE FOR PATIENTS(not customers) to be more efficient.

      We bring in a 2 tier profit driven system, the main goal of which, is to pilfer as much money from the pockets of the people as possible like the American’s have and this is genuinely not seen as a bad idea and not scoffed at with anywhere near the vigor it deserves to be. There is no level of disgrace conservatives won’t sink to it seems.

      • Thank you for your calm, thoughtful, and even-handed response.

        Alas, life is complicated — one of the chief reasons for which is that idealistic schemes tend to founder on intractable realities. The notion that a small group of people can – and should — create a crystal palace for the majority – the essence of socialism – has thus far not proven to work effectively in the real world. The chief reason for this, I would suggest, is that, in order to impose the idealistic scheme, the free choice of individuals is necessarily compromised – which is exactly what occurs in our system of health care. Additionally, the small group attains excessive power, while the majority languish in the Procrustean bed so solicitously prepared for them.

        If government control were so wonderful, why is it not extended to the distribution of food, shoes, and automobiles? This would have the added benefit of enabling the government to ensure that we eat only healthy food, wear sensible shoes, and drive unostentatiously utilitarian vehicles.

        If our system is “world renowned,” it is for being one element of a questionable triad – Canada, Cuba, and North Korea – the only states having compulsory public health care.

        Many other states combine public and private systems to considerable advantage. In theory, at least, a combination of public and private systems would seem to be ideal: the private system provides a check on the public in terms of efficiency, while the public system provides a check on the private in terms of cost.

        The World Health Organization ranked Canada’s system Number 30 in 2000. France and Italy were at the top. In 2013 Bloomberg ranked Canada as 17th in efficiency. Hong Kong and Singapore were considered most efficient.

        Everyone wishes the best care for patients. The question is, how may that care be best provided.

        A system which compels patients to travel to other jurisdictions to obtain timely care at great expense seems significantly flawed. The flaw, in my view, is not amenable to tinkering, as you suggest, since it overlooks Dostoevsky’s crucial observation: a man is not a piano key.

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