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Ontario asks Ottawa to close loophole that's led to 'disturbing' rise in pay-for-care clinics

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Ontario’s Minister of Health is asking her federal counterpart to help close a loophole she says has led to a “disturbing” rise in clinics charging for access to primary care.

Sylvia Jones wrote to Mark Holland in a letter sent Monday, asking him to block non-physicians from charging for publicly-funded health services.

The federal Canada Health Act (CHA) lays out which health services are funded at the provincial level. But Jones notes the act doesn’t make clear what is or isn’t allowed when it comes to services delivered by non-physicians, including nurse practitioners.

“This lack of a prohibition has created a loophole that certain health care providers and their clinics are taking advantage of, knowing there is no legal consequence or risk of getting shut down,” Jones writes.

While Ontario does directly fund more than two dozen nurse practitioner-led clinics, others that fall outside OHIP coverage have popped up in cities including Toronto and Ottawa, charging hundreds of dollars in annual membership fees to access care.

Jones writes that allowing the practice to continue would “undermine” multi-million dollar investments made in expanding access to primary care.

Opposition parties at Queen’s Park have argued the province could crack down on charging clinics without Ottawa’s help.

Jones argues that a national solution is needed to keep non-physician health care providers from leaving Ontario to work in another province. 

In a statement sent to CTV News Toronto, a spokesperson for MP Mark Holland said that he will soon be releasing a Canada Health Act interpretation letter to clarify the Canada Health Act’s modernization and improvements in healthcare. This will include virtual care, telemedicine and the expansion of scopes of practice of health workers like nurse practitioners.

“This will help to make sure that no matter where in the country they live or how they receive medically necessary care, Canadians must be able to access these services without having to pay out of pocket,” the statement reads in-part. “We have been working closely with provinces and territories throughout the process of drafting this letter.”

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