After years of telling hospitals to raise the price of parking to make ends meet, the Liberals are now saying they will cap such costs for frequent users should they be returned to office.
The cost of parking tends to get little attention by policy makers, but for someone with a chronic condition this can add up to a levy of thousands of dollars depending on how often they have to return to the hospital for appointments.
When the Rouge Valley Health System ended its discounted rates for frequent users of the hospital back in 2011, we calculated that cancer patients attending three times a week would experience $2,400 in additional yearly costs for their care. For those attending the weekly cardiac rehab program, it added up to $800 more per year.
Compare that to the much resented McGuinty health tax which topped out at $900 a year for the wealthiest of citizens.
The Canadian Medical Association Journal has raised this issue as a barrier to care.
They didn’t recommend capping parking fees – they recommended eliminating them.
In a 2013 CBC Marketplace survey, 52 per cent of respondents said parking costs affect how often and how long they can visit. Twenty per cent said they couldn’t afford to visit patients at all.
That’s close to our own 2006 Vector Poll in which 55 per cent said the high cost of parking would deter low-income people from getting the health services they need. When the survey was broken down by income, that response climbed to 74 per cent of those earning less than $30,000 per year.
There is little question that hospital parking rates have exceeded market rates in just about every community. Many municipalities prohibit street parking nearby to protect the hospital’s financial interests. In some communities the only lot that charges money for parking is the hospital.
The CBC Marketplace program quoted cancer specialist Dr. Bob Winston, who summed up the issue as “parking fees are a penalty for having a disease.” Winston called it an unfair tax on his patients.
It’s interesting to note that when the new Kingston Providence P3 hospital is built, users will be required to pay for parking. The rational is that the cost of the parking lot is not included in Ministry funding.
We would like to see the true costs of paving and maintaining such lots when we see fees as high as $28 a day at some hospitals.
To cap the fees likely won’t appease Ontarians angry about this barrier to care, but it will hit hospitals that have had their base funding frozen for two years going on three.
The question is, will the Liberals also be willing to make up for any financial loss as part of this initiative?