Ottawa urged to crack down on B.C. over 'health-care tax'

By VIVIAN LUK, Globe and Mail

The federal Liberals are demanding that the Harper government crack down on B.C. for charging convalescing hospital patients fees, saying the practice violates the Canada Health Act.

The fees – about $29 per day or $900 per month – were introduced in January and were gradually phased in by the province’s health authorities.

Federal health critic Ujjal Dosanjh said he found out about the fees on Wednesday. Calling them a “health-care tax,” Mr. Dosanjh said charging patients who are recovering from an injury or illness goes against the Canada Health Act. The Act requires “all medically necessary physician and hospital services be covered by provincial or territorial health insurance plans, whether they are provided in a hospital or in a facility providing hospital care.”

Ottawa is responsible for enforcing the act and can levy penalties for violations.

“People pay taxes and that’s the best measure of your ability to pay,” Mr. Dosanjh said. “We shouldn’t be taxing people based on their health-care needs.”

Patients in respite and palliative care have been paying similar fees brought in by the New Democratic Party in 2000, during which time Mr. Dosanjh was party leader and premier.

B.C. Health Minister Kevin Falcon said that convalescent care patients receive similar benefits and services as those in short-term residential care. Convalescent care patients are those who no longer require acute care, but are transferred to a residential care bed in the hospital to recover.

“It’s not a cash grab, it’s a fairness issue,” Mr. Falcon said. “There was a gap in the policy because not all clients were being charged. Respite clients were paying, palliative clients were, but convalescent people weren’t. The fee is entirely appropriate.”

The fees can be reduced or waived if patients demonstrate they have no financial means to pay.

All residential care services in B.C. are part of the Continuing Care Act, which is under provincial jurisdiction and allows for the charging of modest fees for room and board, Mr. Falcon added.

Mr. Dosanjh argues that convalescent care patients who reside in a hospital should not be charged.

“Residential care, long-term care, those are different issues,” he said. “Hospital care is a publicly insured health service and you cannot charge extra fees for that, no matter what your rationale is.”

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq was not available for comment. Health Canada officials will contact B.C officials to clarify details of this patient charge, said a department spokeswoman.

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