Natalie Mehra of the Ontario Health Coalition said the government is planning to bring in new regulations to usher in private specialty clinics and shut down some services in hospitals.
"So the bottom line for us is this: the government's proposal to bring in private clinics and cut community hospital services, we fear is a giant step towards privatization," she said.
Patients would have to go from clinic to clinic for services, having a "profound effect" on health care, she said.
It will also reduce access to health care for patients in rural and poor areas, said NDP health critic France Gelinas.
"They are never set up in places that make them accessible," she said.
"You're not going to see them in the poor area of the province or the rural area where access to care is a barrier. You see them in high-volume, easy care, plush areas of urban centres."
Health Minister Deb Matthews said moving procedures out of hospital where they can be done safely will actually be more convenient for patients and may reduce health-care costs.
Almost half of every dollar the provincial government spends is on health and long-term care.
"We want hospitals to be places where people go for acute care," Matthews said.
"If they don't need to go to the hospital, if a procedure can be done outside of a hospital, that's good for patients and it's good for the system."
Matthews insists it's not privatization, saying the government is committed to a non-profit model, such as the Kensington Eye Institute in Toronto which does eye surgeries.
But Mehra points to the auditor general's annual report last year, which said most of the 825 independent health facilities in Ontario were owned and operated by for-profit companies. Only three per cent are non-profit organizations.
The report said the government estimates that about half are fully owned or controlled by physicians, many of whom are radiologists who interpret X-rays and ultrasounds, for example.
The report also found that the Ministry of Health paid the clinics about $408 million in 2010-11 in so-called "facility fees" for overhead costs such as rent, staff, supplies and equipment. It also pays physicians a standard fee for each service provided.
"Four or five physicians get together — that doesn't make it a not-for-profit," said Gelinas. "It makes it a physician-owned, for-profit care delivery clinic."
Steven Barrett, a lawyer who advised OHC, said the clinics are governed by different legislation than hospitals, which lends itself to competitive bidding, market competition and tends to result in for-profit facilities.
It appears the government intends to have these services provided only on a not-for-profit basis, but the regulations haven't been made public, he said.
"There's nothing in the regulations or in the legislated structure that would actually assure or ensure protections against these clinics ending up being run on a for-profit basis," said Barrett.
A spokeswoman for Matthews said the government is planning to amend regulations that only allowed clinics to receive public dollars for a specified range of services.
The amendments would provide Local Health Integration Networks and Cancer Care Ontario with the authority to provide funding for health care services that will be offered in community-based specialty clinics, said Samantha Grant.Suggest a correction