Opposition makes noise over new eHealth contract
TORONTO - EHealth's awarding of a $236-million contract at the height of a spending scandal at the provincial agency is "ominous" given the timing and the fact the Ontario government kept the deal quiet, the opposition charged Tuesday.
The contract only became public after consulting firm Nightingale announced it would be among several companies benefiting from the three-year deal to link another 5,700 Ontario doctors to electronic health records for their patients.
While the government insisted Tuesday that the announcement was good news, the New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives said it raised a lot of questions about why the Liberal government failed to publicized the deal.
"None of us are able to go up the chain of command to find who approved this," said NDP health critic France Gelinas.
"No transparency, no accountability. It's the same old eHealth all over again."
People are worried about who benefited from the latest eHealth deal after the province's auditor general issued a special report saying Ontario got little value for the $1 billion it has spent so far on electronic health records, said Opposition Leader Tim Hudak.
"It's very ominous that at the height of the controversy around the billion-dollar boondoggle at eHealth, the government slipped another $236 million out the door," said Hudak.
"Taxpayers are justifiably nervous about whether that money went to Liberal friendly consultants or to health care."
In his special report on eHealth, Auditor General Jim McCarter found the agency awarded millions of dollars in untendered contracts.
The $236 million went to companies that had been pre-approved to take on contracts for eHealth and that met the qualifications of the OntarioMD program to sell their products to doctors.
Premier Dalton McGuinty said the government wanted to wait until the auditor issued his report on eHealth before announcing the agency had awarded the contract, and suggested the Liberals were worried it would have been received as more bad news.
"I know the decision we made at that point in time was to allow for the auditor's report to come out before we made that (contract) public," McGuinty said.
"Sometimes different kinds of news is received in different kinds of ways by different kinds of people."
Later in the legislature, McGuinty defended the goal of hooking more doctors up to use electronic health records, and said the $236-million deal was actually in the auditor's special report on eHealth.
"It's all here in black and white in the auditor's report," McGuinty told Gelinas when she asked why the public wasn't made aware of the contract with Nightingale or who approved it.
"We've got four million Ontarians now who are part of this electronic medical record program and this will roll us up to 10 million."
The Ontario Medical Association, the doctors' lobby which runs the OntarioMD program, said more and more physicians are showing interest in signing up for electronic health records.
"Since the announcement of the program last week, OntarioMD has received over 650 inquiries about the program from physicians," said association president Dr. Suzanne Strasberg.
"In just four days over 165 doctors across Ontario have already applied for funding."
Doctors can apply for nearly $30,000 to buy either a local electronic records system or a system tied into eHealth Ontario's server, but Gelinas said that only accounts for about $171 million of the $236-million contract.
"There is still $65 million unaccounted for if they get the take up from all 5,700 physicians," said Gelinas.
EHealth gave out the $236-million contract in July, just after CEO Sarah Kramer resigned.
David Caplan resigned as health minister on the eve of McCarter's report being released.