Canadians divided on privatizing health care, the survey finds

A new Angus Reid poll shows 39 per cent of respondents still staunchly oppose paying for medical care while the rest either support privatization or are cautious but curious about the idea.

The non-profit organization polled just over 2,000 Canadians in early February and found they fell into one of three categories: public health purists, private care proponents, or curious but hesitant about potential changes.

Thirty-nine per cent of Canadians fall into the first category, meaning they see “little to no place for privatization” and believe any movement in that direction would only “exacerbate current challenges” in the health-care system.

On the other end of the spectrum, private care proponents accounted for 28 per cent of respondents, and this group’s increased privatization or hybrid models are a “necessary evolution” for optimum care.

The curious but hesitant crowd (33 per cent) say they see the potential value in contracting for-profit doctors and paying for operations but are deeply concerned about access for low-income Canadians and possible staff shortages.

Toronto surgeon David Urbach worries that a ramp-up in private clinics could entice doctors and nurses away from the public sector seeking better pay, leading to longer hospital wait times and reduced quality of care.

“I’m really worried that people don’t completely understand the long-term impacts of some of these changes,” said Urbach.

The poll results coming as the federal government and Canadian premiers hash out the details of a $46-billion health care transfer deal, which is being pitched by Ottawa as a generational fix for an aging system.

Ontario is the latest province to publicly fund surgeries at private clinics to help eliminate the long wait lists caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Alberta and Saskatchewan had previously done the same.

In British Columbia, health authorities contracted $27.2 million to private clinics in 2021. According to BC Health Minister Adrian Dix, there were more than 13,000 contracted surgeries or four per cent of total surgeries, done privately that year.

The Angus Reid numbers show Canadians are also divided on what is actually considered private health care. Over half (51 per cent) of respondents said publicly funding private clinic surgeries qualifies, while 33 per cent of those asked said it didn’t.

When it comes to paying out of pocket for treatment, there is more consensus, with seven in 10 respondents saying that it is privatization.

And when a province pays for a surgery at a private clinic, that cost is kept secret, says Andrew Longhurst, a BC-based health researcher.

“That’s one of the challenges of understanding the costs, the relative costs, in the for-profit sector is provincial governments routinely deny access to those contract’s records based on commercial confidentiality.”

Canada spends roughly $330 billion a year on health care, according to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The Angus Reid Institute conducted its online survey. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Tap here to read the full report, including the methodology.

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