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UBCM to vote on for-profit healthcare moratorium

The BC Health Coalition hopes the third time's the charm when they introduce a resolution at the Union of BC Municipalities Convention tomorrow calling for the government to stop the growth of for-profit healthcare in the province.

Sponsored by the City of Victoria, the resolution asks the B.C. government to put a moratorium on for-profit clinics, end public funding of for-profit clinics, enforce compliance with the B.C. Hospitals Act at all for-profit clinics, and to expand publicly-funded and publicly-run outpatient clinics.

"Little matters more to individuals than good health, and the people of B.C. have been clear in poll after poll that access to an equitable and efficient public health care system is a fundamental value to the people of the province, and to all Canadians," says Phillippe Lucas, a Victoria city councilor, in a press release from the BC Health Coalition. This is the third time the Coalition, a network of organizations and individuals that claims to represent over 600,000 British Columbians, has introduced the resolution at the annual UBCM convention.

In 2009 the resolution was tabled for the following year when the meeting ran out of time. But due to a clerical oversight in 2010, the resolution did not appear on the agenda and was pushed to a vote without discussion at the very end of the meeting. As a result the resolution failed.

This year it's back again, but unlike last year when the UBCM resolution committee had no opinion on the vote, this year they recommend members do not endorse the resolution. "We can only assume that they changed their recommendation this year because they're aware of the fact that it's exactly the same resolution as last year. So without taking the circumstances into account, one could argue that it not be endorsed because it was already defeated last year," Lew MacDonald, coordinator of the Health Coalition, told The Tyee, adding that decision could influence delegates who are undecided on the vote.

"[But] when the resolution is read and presented to most delegates, they're quite strongly in support of public healthcare, widely speaking, and don't like the idea of private operators operating in contravention of health legislation and health law, and the idea that the Medical Services Commission isn't enforcing the legislation."

The resolution couldn't it couldn't be timelier. The Medical Services Commission of BC is currently conducting an audit on the for-profit Cambie Surgery Centre, which the Coalition calls "the largest for-profit clinic in B.C. and leader of a legal attack on B.C.'s Medicare laws that protect patients from being charged user fees for publicly insured, medically necessary healthcare."

According to an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, there are currently 66 private medical clinics in B.C. If the resolution passes, the UBCM will be directed to make a formal request to the province to establish a moratorium on the clinics, though MacDonald admits this is a symbolic gesture. If they lose, however, he says the Coalition will not stop lobbying politicians for stricter limits on for-profit healthcare in the province.

"We'll continue to raise awareness about the importance that public healthcare as an issue has for municipal governments in the upcoming municipal elections. We'll be similarly campaigning whenever the next provincial election is held in trying to make sure this is an issue that gets on the agenda," he says. The vote happens tomorrow morning and requires a 50 per cent plus one majority to pass.*

Katie Hyslop reports for The Tyee.

*Updated 3:51 p.m. September 30, 2011. We originally posted that the voted needed two-thirds support. This was incorrect.

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