Canadian Medical Association

Canadian Medical Association

June 09, 2005 17:20 ET

CMA/Historic Supreme Court Decision: Access Delayed, is Access Denied

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - June 9, 2005) - The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the Canadian Orthopaedic Association (COA) stated today that the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in the landmark Chaoulli/Zeliotis case represents a stinging indictment of the failure of governments to respond to the mountains of studies and years of research with real action for our health care system.

"In essence, the Court has agreed with (the CMA/COA's) fundamental position that Canadians have the right to timely access to health services," said Dr. Albert Schumacher, President of the CMA. "They have gone as far as ruling that prohibiting patients from using private financing and private insurance where wait times are excessive, at least under the Quebec Charter, is unconstitutional."

"One thing that is certain is that we physicians will continue to put our patients first," said Dr. Schumacher. "I took an oath to do my best for my patients - as did all my fellow doctors - and that will not change just because our national health insurance program now faces important changes."

The Supreme Court struck down a Quebec prohibition that banned the use of private health insurance to provide medically necessary services. Although the ruling applies only in Quebec, since the prohibition was found to violate Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, it could open the door to similar litigation in other provinces.

The CMA and the Canadian Orthopedic Association were co-interveners in the case and presented to the court during the hearing on June 8, 2004. The CMA and COA argued that the principles underlying the Canada Health Act - portability, comprehensiveness, universality, public administration and accessibility - remain sound but should be buttressed by the additional principle of "timeliness".

The CMA/COA had also argued that any decision of unconstitutionality be deferred for three years to give governments time to come up with systemic solutions to address the issue of ensuring timely provision of medically necessary health care services.

"We are not surprised about the outcome, but we are surprised that the decision takes effect immediately," said Dr. Alain Jodoin, Past President of the COA. "Today's decision is a clarion call to all governments, to immediately sit down with health care providers to lay out a roadmap that will provide Canadians with timely access to quality health care that is safe and reasonable."

The CMA underlined the fact that, in last September's First Ministers Accord, the Prime Minister and the Premiers committed themselves to establishing comparable access indicators and wait-time benchmarks by December 31, 2005.

In recent months, the CMA and the COA have shown leadership on the issue of addressing wait times, joining several associations of medical specialists in the Wait Time Alliance (WTA). This Alliance has established medically-acceptable wait times in five key areas of medical treatment, which were presented in an Interim Report released in April 2005. The work of the WTA has been praised by Prime Minister Martin and the Premier of Ontario, among others. The WTA's final report will be released in August 2005.

Dr. Schumacher stated that the issues raised by the Supreme Court's ground-breaking decision would be discussed in greater detail at the CMA's annual General Council, to be held in Edmonton in August.

"At the same time, I think it is urgent that all of us involved in the health care system come together to work to ensure that all Canadians get the care they need, when they need it," Dr. Schumacher concluded.

Contact Information

  • CMA
    Carole Lavigne
    Media Relations
    (613) 731-8610 or 1-800-663-7336 ext. 1266