Quebec diverting Medicare dollars to the regions

Health Minister Réjean Hébert:
“It’s not a clinical directive. It’s a budgetary directive.”

By Robert Frank

Health Minister Régean Hébert plans to redistribute Medicare money to less populous centres, to accomplish the Parti québécois government’s drive to regionalize delivery of the province’s health care services.

Last month, The Suburban broke the news that the province is pressuring Montreal hospitals to return patients to their home regions for treatment. Two weeks ago, Laval health officials told the newspaper that the first shift of patients will start April 1.

Hebert pledged to preserve Quebecers’ right to seek treatment anywhere they want. He acknowledged last week that to do otherwise would violate patients’ rights under the province’s health care act. However, the budget move will effectively render those rights irrelevant, as the province starves the urban hospitals of the funds that they need to continue delivering treatment.

450 or die

“Offering regionalized service will deliver services close to their home,” Hébert said in a statement, in which he referred to “four historically underfunded regions: Montérégie, Lanaudière, the Laurentians and the Outaouais.”

Hébert has also issued a string of announcements promising to lavish taxpayer money on string of medical investments in the province’s outlying regions.

That splash could turn into a tsunami when tomorrow’s provincial budget is tabled.

The Minister justified the budget shift “out of concern for greater interregional equity and to improve care and services outside [Quebec’s] big cities.”

Laval health authorities told The Suburban that dialysis treatment for kidney patients and surgery to remove cataracts from patients’ eyes is slated to shift to the Cité de la santé superhospital in less than six weeks from now.

Those patients are currently being treated at the McGill University Health Centre and the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal.

According to a document obtained by The Suburban, pregnant women needing obstetric care, patients slated for day surgery and stable chronic disease sufferers were also supposed to be shipped back to their regions, April 1.

However Laval health care authority spokeswoman Francine Gosselin told The Suburban in an interview that the regionalization of those specialties has been postponed.

Budget trumps clinicians

The plan raised opposition ire after members of the National Assembly reconvened in Quebec City last week after their holiday break.

“It’s not a clinical directive,” Hébert said in the Quebec legislature, Feb. 12. “It’s a budgetary directive.”

“Montreal hospitals have been told to expect to reduce their volume of patients,” he continued, “because those patients will be treated in Laval and the Montérégie.”

“Those budget cuts might stretch out over several years,” Hébert suggested. “We’re not talking about a sudden reduction.”
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