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Analysis

Here Are All the Corporations Lobbying Doug Ford To Privatize and Outsource Parts Of Ontario’s Health Care System

Doug Ford has a 'track record' of working with private companies rather than investing in the public system, advocacy groups warn

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With Ontario’s long underfunded health system still struggling to manage COVID-19 patients, records show private health companies have stayed busy lobbying Doug Ford’s government to “privatize or outsource” parts of healthcare delivery.

Statistics from the office of Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner note that more lobbyists have registered to influence health policy than on nearly any other issue – 1,137 registrations – aside from “economic development and trade.”

Since the start of the pandemic, several media reports have indicated private virtual care, private health testing and even private health facilities have grown enormously as a less-regulated shadow sector of the system. And it seems many want to play an even greater role.

Hundreds of lobby registry entries from private health companies reviewed by PressProgress indicate many of these companies continue to push Ontario’s Ministry of Health and other officials to “privatize or outsource” health services.

“It is no surprise that these companies see opportunities and are lining up to lobby the Ministry of Health,” Canadian Doctors For Medicare Executive Director Katie Arnup told PressProgress.

“Doug Ford’s Conservative government has a track record of working with, and contracting out to, private companies rather than investing in the public system.”

“It would be disappointing to see the Ontario government continue down this path when giving our public health care system the resources it needs to serve patients would be a more effective and equitable solution,” Arnup added. “Patient needs must come before private profits.”

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Here are a few areas of the health system that records suggest are being targeted by lobbyists:

 

Virtual Care

Back in 2019, the Ford government announced its plan to supposedly end “hallway healthcare” – the “Digital First Healthcare Strategy.” The strategy aimed to move care out of hospitals and expand virtual care beyond the province’s existing Telemedicine Network. The government said this would build on the “capabilities of Ontario’s digital health innovators.”

Since that time, a number of for-profit health companies have lobbied the Ford government to get digital healthcare and Telemedicine contracts.

According to the registry, Telus representatives met with provincial officials on April 20 – reportedly to ask the government to “privatize or outsource” service.

Specifically, the Registry says it hired a former Ford government policy advisor to discuss how it can “partner with government to deliver on elements of the Digital First for Health Strategy by providing virtual and digitally enabled health care solutions.”

According to its website, Telus offers both publicly-insured Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) care and paid “premium” and “personalized” care, available “24/7” and 365 days a year.

Another company, VIPRemoteHealth, which specializes in “remote patient monitoring,” is also registered to lobby Ministry officials on matters relating to Covid-19/pandemic response, health and hospitals.

According to the filing, the company also proposed the MOH privatize or outsource telehealth services – supposedly to help cut costs.

“My team would be grateful for the opportunity to meet and provide more detailed information to the Minister of Health, as part of the ongoing development of the Ontario TeleHealth Network. We believe VIP Health as a partner advances and will help to protect public health and safety while cutting costs and improving access. Therefore, we are attempting to sell our product to improve the TeleHealth Network.”

According to the registry, Enghouse Systems Ltd. also hired Ford’s former campaign director to lobby the government to privatize or outsource telehealth services.

“The Government of Ontario is currently experiencing an unprecedented pandemic, forcing individuals to stay in their homes. Enghouse and their subsidiary Vidyo, offer state of the art telehealth and video conferencing services. Our goal is to let the Ministry of Health and associated agencies know these services can be rapidly deployed across government channels. Ultimately, we will offer these services at a fair market rate to help through this period of transition and challenge.”

Back in 2020, PressProgress investigated Wello, a for-profit healthcare company that offers “very similar” service to what the province offers, except it allows those who pay faster care. Wello lobbied the Ford government explicitly to discuss digital healthcare “provision.”

Earlier this year, the tech and consulting firm Accenture polled Ontarians about how open they would be to wider health privatizatization, post-pandemic – especially private telehealth, appointment booking and pharmacy services.

Accenture, which was previously known as Andersen Consulting, made headlines for its role in an eHealth billing controversy and in the creation of Presto under the Ontario Liberals. Accenture was also a member of the Ford government’s “Premier’s council on Economic Opportunity.” Back in 2019, Accenture Representatives spoke alongside former PC health Minister Christine Elliott on how digital care can become “a multi-billion-dollar industry.”

Accenture also recently partnered with Shoppers Drug Mart to “transform digital healthcare experiences” with its “PC health platform.”

 

Testing And Lab Services

Back in 2020, Doug Ford was asked if he would stop private testing companies from charging up to $400 for faster COVID-19 tests. Ford replied: “I think it’s a free market society.”

Meanwhile, the Ford government also contracted a number of wellness companies to run pop-up testing clinics – one of which was Canadian Health Labs.

More recently, the Toronto-based Canadian Health Labs began lobbying on the subject of “Privatization and outsourcing.” Its lobby registry summarizes its activity as follows:

“Seeking opportunities for CHL to provide healthcare services on behalf of government or government agencies.”

Another company deployed to run COVID-19 testing was Switch Health, which has also registered to lobby the government to “privatize or outsource” services.

According to its description, Switch Health registered with an eye towards “discussing with the Government of Ontario the administration of current contracts with Switch and the ways in which Switch can further assist the Government to detect, control, and respond to COVID-19 and its variants.”

LifeLabs, another site tapped to run COVID-19 tests, not only has close ties to one Ontario Health senior executive – it also continues to lobby provincial officials, specifically to “privatize or outsource services.”

According to its filing, the lobbying seeks “To raise awareness of LifeLabs’ service offerings with government officials, to enhance the services that patients receive, and to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the Ontario lab system.”

In a statement to PressProgress, a LifeLabs spokesperson said the company is not “lobbying to privatize the system” but instead discuss “partnerships and opportunities” to “improve” testing:

“Our services are governed by partnerships with the provincial government which dictate scope, service-level, funding and standards of care. We are not lobbying to privatize the system. We engage with government to discuss these partnerships and opportunities to improve community testing for Ontarians.”

Back in August 2020, the Ford government entered into talks with Shoppers Drug Mart to offer COVID-19 tests at its pharmacies across the province. A month later, Shoppers Drug Mart was listed as one of the companies tapped by the province to provide COVID-19 testing.

Coincidentally, as PressProgress reported, the MOH’s “director of pandemic response” was a former Shoppers Drug Mart lobbyist.

According to its registry filings, Shoppers Drug Mart lobbyists continue to push the Ford government to “discuss policy and issues related to the pharmacy sector, specifically how can pharmacists play a greater role in addressing Ontarians health care needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

 

Independent Health Facilities

Back in 2019, a bombshell leak from the Ministry Of Health revealed plans to potentially replace existing LINHs with a superagency, able to more-freely privatize sectors of Ontario’s healthcare system – notably to expand “Independent Health Facilities.”

Independent Health Facilities are non-hospital health sites that perform medically necessary operations typically done in-hospital. While some IHFs are non-profits, according to the Ontario Health Coalition, 97% of current IHFs are for-profit companies.

Last Summer a MOH memo further noted plans to resolve the “backlog” of delayed surgeries in Ontario’s hospitals by setting up new IHFs.

Currently, a number of companies are lobbying to “privatize or outsource” surgical services, presumably so they can move procedures out of hospitals.

One such firm is Northwest Healthcare. According to the registry, the firm is seeking to “educate and/or partner with the government in the planning and creation of advanced medical facilities to aid in resolving the significant surgical backlog.”

One of Northwest Healthcare’s board members is, seemingly, David J Klein who has sat on the Ford government’s “Healthcare Audit Committee” since March 2020.

Another firm, MyHealth Centre, has also registered to lobby provincial officials for help “navigating policies around independent health facilities, diagnostic machinery licenses and labour shortages.”

 


 

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include additional comments from Canadian Doctors For Medicare.

 

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Mitchell Thompson
Ontario Reporter
Mitchell Thompson is PressProgress’ Ontario reporter. His reporting has a special focus on workers and communities, and public services and privatization, and public accountability.

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