The Ford government has no plans to contract medical services out to the lowest bidder, Health Minister Christine Elliott says, dismissing concerns from critics about increasing privatization after the leak of a confidential draft bill.
“That is not what we are considering,” Elliott told the Star on Friday during a media blitz after NDP Leader Andrea Horwath revealed the controversial draft legislation, marked “confidential.”
Horwath warned the bill would create a super agency to find “efficiencies” in health care, with powers to contract more treatment services to the private sector. Elliott dismissed it as a “very early version,” but critics questioned that.
“You don’t spend time drafting a bill that’s 81 pages long, that’s as specific as that, without intent,” interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said Friday.
“You see the powers. They have the power to go to a single procurement system. They have a power to amalgamate health service providers within a community in 30 days and nobody can say anything about it.”
Elliott said opposition parties are “fear-mongering,” particularly with accusations that Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives are moving to a two-tier health system, where people who can afford it would be able to pay out of their own pockets to get medical treatment more quickly.
“We are concentrating on providing better quality services for the people of Ontario through our publicly funded system using their OHIP card,” the health minister said.
Elliott would not say exactly how that would be accomplished and promised details “within a very short period of time” as consultations continue with front-line health care workers, patients and others in the sector.
The Star first revealed plans for the super agency on Jan. 17. Sources said the plan is to improve services for patients by integrating and streamlining the mammoth health care system under one layer of control, folding agencies like Cancer Care Ontario and others into it.
Given that more than 1,000 patients a day are being treated in hospital hallways, 15,000 people are waiting for nursing home beds and teens with mental health problems are waiting up to a year for help, Elliott said the massive health ministry budget of $61 billion is not getting “best value.”
“We’re looking for ways we can bring forward more front-line services,” she added, declining to provide details.
Two lobby groups slammed the government for not holding public hearings on what Elliott has said will be “transformative change” in the health care system.
“There was no public consultation. This was not mentioned in the election campaign. Where is the mandate?” asked Sara Labelle of the Ontario Health Coalition, which advocates for more publicly provided services in health care.
Ontario Federation of Labour president Chris Buckley urged Ontarians to contact their local Conservative MPPs with any concerns.
“Remind them, this is not what they campaigned on,” Buckley told a news conference at Queen’s Park.
Elliott challenged that view, saying the Tories “were elected to improve our health care system.”
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1