In health care it is not privatization to fear, it’s profitization

This column by Armine Yalnizyan was originally published by the Toronto Star on Thursday February 16, 2023. Armine is a Contributing Columnist to Toronto Star Business featured bi-weekly.

In story after story, the crisis in health care and the shortage of health-care workers begs for more money and action.

The future of health care in this country does not turn, as premiers would have us believe, on a fight for federal dollars. The emerging drama is a fight for profits in the sector and investors are already quietly winning.

Although there is hope new federal funding tabled last week will improve access to critically needed hospital, primary, long-term and home care, it raises new concerns. Premier Doug Ford told reporters the prime minister imposed no restrictions on use of those funds for private delivery of care. For his part, Justin Trudeau pointed to the protection offered by the Canada Health Act’s guarantee of access to publicly paid services.

While paying for care via credit card or health card is an issue, a bigger story is unfolding: the growing for-profit delivery of care and new ownership of those profits — small players like individual doctors versus giant corporations with responsibilities to produce shareholder demands for returns. It’s not about the privatization of care. It’s about its profitization.

Venture capital, private equity and foreign direct investment are exploding in the field of health care. Why? They offer rock-steady returns and growth, paid by taxpayers, for the next few decades due to population aging.

The Canada Health Act does not protect us from this.

We should all read the Canada Health Act. It’s short. It’s clear. It’s founded on strong principles and stipulates that no extra fees be charged for medically necessary care provided by doctors and hospitals.

But it’s no bulwark against the growing incursion of investment capital in health service delivery, expected by market analysts to surge to new levels in 2023. That’s because the only profit it prohibits is in the administration of government insurance plans.