DENNIS BUECKERT, CP
OTTAWA -- Ontario is striking back at the creeping privatization of health care by preparing to buy out seven private clinics and bring them into the public sector, CP has learned. Secret talks could lead to the province taking over existing for-profit MRI and CT clinics throughout Ontario in a move that may foreshadow the federal government's plans to save medicare.
The Ontario government has been under unrelenting pressure since it re-introduced health premiums in its last budget.
An angry Conservative critic, Frank Klees, said the first millions produced by the health premiums will go to paying for the buyouts, which he said are driven purely by ideology.
He accused Ontario of making the move to position itself for coming federal-provincial negotiations on health care -- talks in which Ontario is expected to be the federal Liberals' biggest supporter.
Prime Minister Paul Martin has asked provincial premiers to come to a first ministers' conference on medicare in September. Martin has promised to pump $9 billion into a system that is groaning under the strain of an aging population.
Private clinics have popped up in several provinces, offering quicker diagnostic care for those willing to pay hundreds of dollars to jump the queue in the public system.
Ontario's clinics were set up under the previous Conservative government and have five-year contracts worth a total of $4.6 million a year, according to documents.
Clinics at Kingston, Thunder Bay, Kitchener and Richmond Hill are to be transferred to new non-profit entities, while the government proposes to purchase clinics from Diagnosticare/CML at Ajax, Huntsville and Mississauga.
Three out of four clinic operators -- Superior Imaging Inc., Kingston MRI Inc. and KMH Cardiology Centres Inc. -- have made proposals to the government for conversion of the facilities to non-profit entitites, the documents say.
A fourth operator, DC Diagnosticare Inc., is a publicly traded corporation and has offered to sell its assets to the government. Ontario has made an initial offer of $14 million for that facility.
A spokesperson for Premier Dalton McGuinty confirmed negotiations are under way.
"We are committed to delivering on our platform commitment to bring MRI clinics back to the public realm and the Ministry of Health is working hard to make this a reality," said the spokesperson.
You can be sure taxes will rise in Ontario, while the level of care in these clinics - along with those already publically owned - will drop
"It's consistent with our values of accessible and universal health care."
Klees said the move is a slap in the face of every Ontario voter.
"When Ontarians see that new health tax deducted from their cheque they should know that they're paying for this sham. It's clearly dogma-driven and does nothing to add one service to anyone in this province.
"What I see here is a political play leading up to the meeting that Dalton McGuinty and other premiers are going to have with the prime minister. This is all about positioning for that meeting."
All of the clinics were created under the Ontario Independent Health Facilities Act under former premier Ernie Eves.