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'I think I was taken for a ride': Ontario Health Coalition says patients being 'unlawfully' charged at private medical clinics

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The Ontario government is letting private, for-profit medical clinics get away with unlawfully charging patients for health care that should be covered by OHIP, according to a watchdog group.

The Ontario Health Coalition held a series of events across the province Tuesday to release its findings.

“And meanwhile, I can’t drive, I live alone, how is that going to affect my life?” asked Maureen Monro.

That’s what the 85 year old said was going through her mind when she needed cataract surgery. She was faced with the choice of waiting to two three years in the public system to have her eyesight restored, or get the surgery done right away at a private clinic, but shell out $7,000.

She opted for the latter, but she said she felt she had little choice.

“I think I was shafted, I really do, I think I was taken for a ride. Because it was my age, whatever. I thought, well you know, ‘Like I need this,’” she explained.

Monro took part in a London news conference hosted by the Ontario Health Coalition to talk about cases in which patients had to pay out of pocket for necessary health care.

Patient Maureen Munro speaks to CTV News in London, Ont. on April 16 , 2024. (Bryan Bicknell/CTV News London)

Mike Suta was also on hand for the event. He said his partner had to pay $3,000 for cataract surgery on one eye, even though four years earlier she had the same surgery on the other eye covered by OHIP -- by the same surgeon.

“What can you do,” he questioned. “Who do you contact? Who do you say, ‘Well this guy did it for nothing before, now we have to pay him $3,000.’ You have no recourse.”

The health coalition said it surveyed 231 patients between Feb. 5 and March 8 of this year, and found 120 were “unlawfully” charged by private clinics.

“For every patient that came forward today there’s a multitude of others that have anecdotally said that they have had this happen but they felt too embarrassed, too manipulated and intimidated to go forward,” explained London Health Coalition Co-Chair Peter Bergmanis.

In January of 2023, the Ford government announced an expansion of certain surgeries to be done at private, for-profit clinics. The intention at the time was to ease the burden on the public system.

Peter Bergmanis of the Ontario Health Coalition displays an information pamphlet during a news conference in London, Ont. on April 16, 2024. (Bryan Bicknell/CTV News London)

The Ministry of Health was not able to accommodate an interview request from CTV News London Tuesday, but instead issued a statement.

In it, Hannah Jensen, a spokesperson for Health Minister Sylvia Jones called the Ontario Health Coalition an “NDP-backed special interest group.”

The statement went on to say in part:

“Over the last year we have increased publicly funded diagnostic imaging capacity by an additional 97,767 MRI and 116,443 CT operating hours, adding tens-of-thousands OHIP covered cataract surgeries and achieved some of the shortest wait times of any province in Canada, with nearly 80 per cent of people receiving their procedure within clinically recommended target times.” 

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