VICTORIA — B.C.’s New Democrat party members are urging their government to make hospital parking free for patients and families, but the minister responsible isn’t ready to commit to any such action.
NDP members at the party’s weekend convention passed a resolution that called on the provincial government to “eliminate parking fees for patients and families visiting hospitals in B.C., while taking an evidence-based approach to ensure spaces are available and the system is not abused by those who are not patients or their family members.”
The resolution, which passed on the convention floor, said that parking fees are “a hardship during some of the most stressful moments in a family’s life” and “give private companies the chance to profit from parking violations incurred by sick or grieving people using a publicly run service.”
The fees — which range by health authority, but at the Vancouver General Hospital parkade are $3 per half-an-hour or $18.75 per day — also create a financial barrier within the health care system, according to the resolution.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said his ministry is still reviewing the hospital parking issue, but noted that some of the revenue goes to hospital foundations, supports health care, and offsets expensive parking enforcement services.
Revenue generated from parking fees at all health authorities is approximately $40 million annually, up from $15 million in 2003.
“It’s actually challenging, especially in some communities, to offer low-cost parking and police low-cost parking,” he said. “So it’s a challenging and complicated issue. But it’s one of the issues that the premier has directed me to look at. And so we’re doing that right now. The resolution at the party convention will inform that process as well.”
John Buss, founder of the HospitalPayParking.ca website that is advocating free parking for patients and those visiting them, said he was pleased with the resolution. Buss said he has been participating in the provincial review process and is “very hopeful” Dix has heard the public outcry.
“The issue is, when do we get Mr. Dix to stop reviewing and start doing,” said Buss. “Our group’s fear is it’s going to be used like the tolls on the bridges and we’ll bring it up at election time. Please promise us we don’t hold this issue as a piece of bait for the next election.”
Opposition critic Norm Letnick said a one-size-fits-all solution to hospital parking won’t work and that he’s sympathetic to the cost pressures facing Dix.
“Right now, he’s using those dollars to provide services,” he said. “Philosophically, I’ll wait and see what his position is, because he’s government. And if we don’t like it, we’ll criticize it.”
Dix was equally noncommittal about a separate review passed by NDP members calling for the introduction of a publicly funded dental care plan in the next election, which would start with children and youth before expanding to adults when funding is available.
“Certainly it’s something that we’re open to, but, again, the health care system has currently a $20-billion budget and we have to act within that budget and set priorities within that budget,” he said.
While a limited number of dental surgeries are covered by public healthcare, most are only covered by private extended health insurance plans.
The first priority is incremental improvements for dental coverage for low-income citizens and those with developmental disabilities, said Dix.
Premier John Horgan publicly declared interest in the idea last year. While Dix would not state an estimated cost on Monday, a dental coverage proposal in Ontario was estimated to cost roughly $1.2 billion annually.
Letnick said the government should first focus on making sure national pharmacare programs promised by federal parties don’t download costs onto provinces before considering expensive programs like dental coverage.