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Decision expected today in challenge to B.C. law over access to private health care

A court decision is expected Thursday in a lengthy legal battle that could change the future of billing in the Canadian health-care system.

A B.C. Supreme Court justice is expected to release a decision around noon PT in a constitutional challenge against critical sections of B.C.’s Medicare Protection Act, more than a decade after the case was filed.

The case was filed by Dr. Brian Day, a self-described champion of privatized health care and owner of the Cambie Surgeries Centre in Vancouver.

Day, an orthopedic surgeon, has argued patients have a constitutional right to pay for private medical services if wait times in the public system are too long. 

The act currently bans doctors from billing the provincial government for medical work done in the public system if they are also earning more money through private clinics. 

The case, filed in 2009, went to trial in B.C. Supreme Court in 2016.

Dr. Darius Viskontas, left, prepares to remove a cyst from a male patient’s knee, with assistance from Dr. Anne Wachsmuth, centre, and Miwa Holm, an operating room registered nurse, at the Cambie Surgery Centre in Vancouver on Aug. 31, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Lawyers for the provincial government told the court they were concerned Canada’s health-care system could end up like that of the United States if Day’s challenge succeeds, leading to the abolishment of those sections of the B.C. act.

The B.C. Health Coalition on Wednesday called the case “an attack … on the very cornerstones” of an act meant to protect patients against extra billing or double billing for medically necessary procedures.

“This case threatens health care for everyone in Canada,” reads a statement from the coalition.

Arguments in the case wrapped up in February.

At the end of the trial, Day walked out of court saying he expected the case to reach the Supreme Court of Canada because, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, private health care is a right for all Canadians and not just British Columbians. 

B.C. Supreme Court Justice John Steeves, who is ruling on the case, told the court he agreed the challenge would likely end up with the country’s top court regardless of his decision Thursday.

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