Quebec – The Quebec government is pushing for more private health-care services and will press Ottawa for changes to the Canada Health Act that could go as far as allowing controversial user fees.

Finance Minister Monique Jérôme-Forget announced the creation of a task force yesterday headed by Claude Castonguay, a former Liberal cabinet minister in the 1970s, considered the father of the province’s medicare system.

Mr. Castonguay has lobbied hard in recent years for user fees as a means to finance the growing cost of health-care services. However, any provinces that raise money through user fees can be penalized by Ottawa, which can reduce transfer payments by the equivalent amount.

Ms. Jérôme-Forget said it is time to review the federal legislation and allow greater flexibility for provinces to raise money to meet the shortfall in health-care costs. She argued the strain on the province’s finances is considerable since 45 per cent of total Quebec government spending – $23.8-billion in 2007-2008 – goes to health-care programs. Quebeckers spend another $9-billion for private health services and private health insurance.

“I’m interested in one thing: How do we finance this system over the long run,” Ms. Jérôme-Forget said yesterday before tabling the Liberal minority government’s budget in the National Assembly.
“We can’t continue to suck the blood out of the other government programs because health-care costs continue to increase.”

Quebec already has one of the highest levels of private health-care service in Canada. Mr. Castonguay and two other yet to be named members of the task force will have the mandate to “define the role the private sector can play to improve access and reduce wait times,” as well as “study changes that might have to be made to the Canada Health Act.”

Health and Social Services Minister Philippe Couillard said more private clinics will be needed to meet current needs. He said that while he doesn’t personally support user fees, all options will have to be examined to keep up with excessive growth in health-care spending.