Liberals promise to cap hospital parking fees after pushing them upward

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?

6 responses to “Liberals promise to cap hospital parking fees after pushing them upward

  1. So, if you had your way and fees were eliminated, where would the hospitals get their gap funding from? Who says we shouldn’t pay (in some way) to use the health system, if those monies go into funding the tech, infrastructure etc. the system requires? The idea that healthcare should be “free” (and that’s a loaded word) is outdated — too many old people using the system, overpaid healthcare workers (not all, but certainly some) etc. mean the system is overused and underfunded. We can’t do much about overuse, so we must do something about the lack of funding.

  2. This is also the line coming out of Rotman. However, we know from our pharmaceutical experience that if you place a financial barrier to care it only ends up costing the system more as an individual’s health deteriorates. We are much better to afford our care when we are well, not when we are ill or frail. Placing such a heavy toll on chronic care patients is not the answer.

  3. Great point, however, I still don’t see the solution. Where does a hospital like McMaster near me get the millions they need, which currently comes from parking and other revenue streams?

  4. It basically comes down to this: would you rather pay a small amount more in taxes now or wait until you are on a fixed income and get dinged thousands of dollars to get your cancer treatment or participate in a cardiac rehab program? Let’s not forget that tax cuts are part of the picture in this election. Tax cuts have already taken $17 billion out of Ontario’s revenues. Tim Hudak wants to add at least another $5 billion to that loss. We would not only be deficit-free had we not gone that route, but likely wouldn’t be implementing these kind of self-defeating user fees.

  5. I hear you — and I hear the argument about taxes all the time. I believe we pay enough tax — when you consider 13% HST, higher retail good prices versus similar goods in the US, costs downloaded to municipalities, stagnant earnings etc. Ontarians are out of pocket — what’s left of the middle class more so than others. Optimizing how we spend tax revenues is the answer, imo, and that has to mean wage adjustments in the health sector for public employees. We simply pay far too many people too much (and in some cases, like nursing, don’t pay enough people enough pay). Also, I think there is an element of chance with health that as a society we haven’t learned to acknowledge — just don’t think I should pay through the nose if I am not using the broken, overpriced system. I enjoy your blog — thanks for the chat!

  6. There’s a whole bunch of assumptions in there that aren’t borne out by evidence, especially around taxes, compensation and staffing. There is also an inherent contradiction in writing about what’s left of the middle class and stagnant wages then turn around and suggest we pay too many people too much. Is going from stagnant wages and high unemployment to less wages and even higher unemployment really the answer, especially amid so much widening inequality in Canada? Yes, taxes could always be better spent — we highlight many failures, including the high cost of privatization. Not sure corporations spend money any better, and yet those costs are also passed on to you as a consumer. How are you liking your costs at the gas pumps these days? Of course, it would be easy not to drive or use transit, right?

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