Physiotherapy: One more privatization scandal?

Lurking only slightly below the surface in the recent fight over changes to funding for physiotherapy is yet another problem with health care privatization.

The government is stopping the ability of 94 physiotherapy clinics to directly bill OHIP. Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews says that, over the years, licences to provide these services have been bought up by large corporations. Currently, two-thirds of the billing goes to four companies that are, she says, "behind the protests" against her reforms.

Moreover, she charges that the "existing 94 clinics have had an unlimited ability to bill the government and have become very creative in they way they bill."

By reforming how the money is distributed, the government claimed they will provide physiotherapy, exercising and fall-prevention classes to 218,000 more people, mostly seniors.  

And they are going to do this while providing less money for physiotherapy than they otherwise would: $16,000,000 less according to the Toronto Star.

To boot, in late July, the government went after the private clinics for money it claims they wrongly billed OHIP.  

Reportedly, a 2011 audit looked at 15,000 records and found that 58% of them failed to support OHIP billings.  Five-minute exercise classes were sometimes billed as physiotherapy,  care plans did not measure up, record keeping was incomplete, and  physician referrals were sometimes lacking.

“There is extraordinary growth in expenditures and the audit was one of those factors that just demonstrated to me that there were companies who were just taking advantage of the way the program was set out and taking advantage of their unlimited ability to bill OHIP,” Health Minister Deb Matthews told the Star.

The Perils of Privatization
It almost sounds like the government thinks these private corporations have been milking the system.  

And that is a widespread problem with privatization:  In the US, the centre of private health care, corporations are regularly accused of gaming the system and over-billing.  Sometimes taking the public for billions of dollars.  

We have had quite a run of health care privatization scandals in Ontario: e.g. e-Health, Ornge, chemotherapy mixtures, the Brampton P3 hospital. 

 But the Ontario government just keeps trying to privatize, despite the results.

Keeping on the same privatization track
Indeed, right in the midst of its fight with the physiotherapy clinics, the government is also moving to turn surgeries done in public hospitals over to private clinics (see OCHU's comments on the private surgical clinics here).  

Maybe if they just keep on trying the same thing they will get a different result...

Photo: Amir Kukovic

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