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In this week’s top Canadian health news, a decade-long challenge to Medicare wraps up and Health Canada cracks down on private payments for publicly funded services.

Health News Recap

  • Final arguments in a decade-long constitutional challenge to Medicare are expected to wrap up Friday. The plaintiffs, led by private clinic owner Dr. Brian Day, argue that Canadians’ charter rights are violated by laws that ban private insurance and extra fees for procedures already covered by Medicare. Day launched the challenge in 2009, at the same time provincial auditors were investigating some 200 cases of extra billing and double billing at his clinic.
  • New Brunswick stood firm in its refusal to fund out-of-hospital abortions, despite warnings from Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu that the province will face financial penalties if it doesn’t cover the service. Hajdu also warned that the federal government will withhold health funding from Manitoba and other provinces that allow patients to pay privately for quicker access to diagnostic services.
  • Health Canada expanded a national recall of metformin products due to concerns that an impurity in the medications could be linked to cancer. The recalled drugs, including six lots of RAN-Metformin tablets and eight lots of APO-Metformin tablets, contained levels of the potential carcinogen N-nitrosodimethylamine that were close to or higher than the acceptable limit.
  • Thousands protested what they called a “lack of support for health care in Alberta,” after the provincial government released a 2020 budget indicating a 0.3% increase in health spending. Health advocates argued a 2.9% increase is necessary to keep up with inflation and population growth and most areas of health care are effectively being cut.
  • Ontario will introduce new home care legislation, after a report found that some patients find the system too difficult to navigate. The proposed reforms include removing service maximums and embedding home care coordinators within the new Ontario Health Teams.
  • Alberta will cut fees paid to hospital-based doctors and those working in other publicly funded facilities, arguing that those doctors pay lower overhead costs than physicians working in private, community-based practices. The cuts are part of sweeping unilateral changes to the way Alberta pays physicians. Doctors in the province warned that hospital-based care could suffer as the cuts may incentivize more doctors to work in the community instead.
  • High volumes of referrals of rural patients to larger urban hospitals in Saskatchewan are contributing to overcrowding, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority. A new report found that “all roads lead to tertiary hospitals,” as patients are often referred to hospitals in Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Regina, even if appropriate services are available locally.
  • Ontario’s patient ombudsman’s office received more than 2,400 complaints last year, many of which were related to communication breakdowns and poor access to care. The post of patient ombudsman has been vacant for the past two years since Christine Elliott quit the position to run for the Progressive Conservatives in 2018; the government began recruiting for the position last month.
  • Nova Scotia scrapped an incentive program that paid doctors $150 for each new patient they take on. Nova Scotia Health Minister Randy Delorey said the program was only intended as a short-term measure when it was introduced during contract negotiations in 2018.
  • The Yukon will hire and license midwives starting next year, with services initially rolling out in Whitehorse. Prince Edward Island is the only other Canadian jurisdiction without regulated midwifery, although the provincial government there has promised to introduce regulations this year.

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