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Federal government 'closely reviewing' Ontario health-care reform bill

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The federal government said it is closely reviewing Ontario’s new health-care reform legislation that invests in private clinics.

In a statement obtained by CTV News Toronto, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos’ office said his government shares the concerns of Canadians who want to “protect and strengthen the delivery of public health care.”

“We are aware of the Government of Ontario legislation introduced yesterday and will be reviewing it closely to ensure it respects the Canada Health Act,” his office said on Wednesday.

“We will always protect Canadians’ equitable access to universal health care services, and will never hesitate to take action to uphold the Act.”

The legislation in question—the Your Health Act—allows independent clinics to conduct OHIP-covered surgeries and diagnostic procedures, including MRI and CT scans, cataract surgeries, minimally invasive gynecological surgeries, and eventually knee and hip replacements.

Advocates and opposition parties have argued this will create a two-tiered health-care system and lead to the further privatization of health care; a claim that caught Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s eye earlier this month.

Speaking to reporters in January, the prime minister said he was aware of Premier Doug Ford’s proposal that would add for-profit community surgical and diagnostic centres to the health system. At the time, he said he would be watching as Ontario put forward its proposal, noting one of the primary responsibilities of the federal government is to ensure public access to health care.

"That's what we're going to continue to watch across the country as people are responding in different ways to delivering better services to Canadians in health care," Trudeau said on Jan. 16.

Ford, for his part, has insisted that no one will be asked to pay for services covered under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). This is reinforced within the legislation, which prohibits clinics from refusing to provide an insurable service to someone who cannot pay.

Speaking to reporters at the legislature on Wednesday, NDP Leader Marit Stiles said she wished more federal health-care funding was conditional upon specific uses in order to prevent the Ford government from spending money on “shareholder profits instead of patient care.”

“I would have liked to see the federal government protect medicare,” she said.

“I think Ontarians clearly believe we don’t want to live in a province or a country where some people get to pay for one level of care and everyone else suffers. And that is what this will lead too.”

The legislation outlines how the provincial government will licence these new for-profit and not-for-profit clinics while also establishing an oversight body that will be responsible for safety and quality standards.

With files from CTV News’ Rachel Aiello 

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