It was a pleasure to see you recently at our Federal/Provincial/Territorial Health Ministers’ Meeting in Winnipeg. As I have explained, when I was appointed as federal Health Minister, the Prime Minister tasked me with promoting and defending the Canada Health Act and quite specifically with eliminating patient charges for services that should be publicly insured. As you are aware, I have taken this responsibility seriously.
Following our conversations earlier this year, I was pleased to hear that all the provinces and territories participated in officials’ level discussions convened by Health Canada this spring. We fine-tuned our approach based on the feedback provided in a series of multi- and bilateral meetings.
The purpose of this letter is to formally advise that I am proceeding with the three Canada Health Act initiatives I discussed with you. Taken together, the Diagnostic Services Policy, the Reimbursement Policy, and strengthened reporting, will provide me with tools to effectively administer the Act in the interest of all Canadians.
Diagnostic Services Policy
One of the overarching objectives of the Canada Health Act is to ensure that Canadians have access to medically necessary care based on their health needs and not their ability or willingness to pay. However, in many jurisdictions, patients are charged for medically necessary diagnostic services provided at private clinics. Since the inception of the Canada Health Act, the federal position has always been that all medically necessary physician and hospital services–including diagnostic services–must be covered by provincial and territorial health insurance plans.
If an authorized provider has referred a patient for a medically necessary diagnostic test, the status of the procedure as a publicly insured service should not change simply because the service is delivered in a private clinic rather than in a hospital. I do not accept the premise that since some patients are willing to pay for expedited access to medically necessary services, they should be provided with a venue to do so. This practice results in patients jumping the queue twice–first, for the diagnostic service itself and then for any follow-up care that may be required. Simply put, this is not fair and goes against the fundamental principle of Canadian health care–that is, that access should be based on health need, not on the ability or willingness to pay.
The Canada Health Act does not preclude the private delivery of insured services. Many insured health services are provided to Canadians in private clinics and are paid for by the provincial or territorial health insurance plan. As long as there are no patient charges, the provinces and territories can provide insured services as they best see fit. However, my clarification of the status of medically necessary diagnostic services through this letter means, in effect, that any charges to patients for these services will be considered to be in contravention of the Canada Health Act.
I fully appreciate that it may take time in some jurisdictions to align provincial and territorial systems with the Diagnostic Services Policy. As I indicated in Winnipeg, the policy will not take effect until April 1, 2020, and reporting on any patient charges for diagnostic services will begin in December 2022 (for the fiscal year 2020-2021). That would mean, in accordance with the Canada Health Act, that any Canada Health Transfer deductions would only be made in March 2023. If, in the interim, a jurisdiction has eliminated patient charges for diagnostic services, that jurisdiction would be eligible for reimbursement of deducted funds through the new Reimbursement Policy.
The Canada Health Act was enacted to eliminate the unfair practice of patient charges. The Act is clear–when a province allows patient charges, mandatory deductions to federal transfer payments must be made. During the first three years of the Canada Health Act, a provision in the Act allowed deductions to be refunded if the jurisdiction took the necessary steps to eliminate patient charges for services which should be publicly insured. This proved effective, and by 1987, patient charges were eliminated for most hospital and physician services across Canada. However, when this refund provision expired, the incentive structure under the Act went from a positive one, to a purely negative one. I believe this needs to change.
With the aim of emulating the success of the original refund provision, I am introducing a new Reimbursement Policy. Going forward, provinces and territories would be eligible to be reimbursed for deductions taken in respect of patient charges, should they demonstrate they have taken action to remove these barriers to access. The enclosed document provides details on the scope and application of the Policy. Any deductions made starting from March 2018 will be eligible for reimbursement under this Policy.
Finally, to ensure that I have the information needed to administer the Act in an even-handed manner and to report to Canadians on the state of their publicly funded health care insurance system, reporting from the provinces and territories to Health Canada and from Health Canada to Canadians will be strengthened and standardized. Details, which were discussed with your officials this past spring, will be communicated by my Deputy in the coming weeks. Again, respecting that a new approach cannot be instituted overnight, we will phase in the new reporting measures.
Canadians are rightfully proud of their health care system and have high expectations that their governments will work together to protect their access to it. I am confident these initiatives will help us meet that challenge and will safeguard our universal health care system for future generations.
I have appreciated our discussions to date and look forward to ongoing collaboration.
The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, P.C., M.P.
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