Ontario privacy commission orders disclosure of names on OHIP billings

by Ryan Smith06 Jun 2016
Ontario’s privacy commission has ordered the health ministry to release the names of doctors along with their OHIP billings, according to a Toronto Star report.

Two years ago, the Star began requesting billings that identified physician names. The commission’s decision brings the province into line with other jursidictions that disclose public funds paid to doctors, the Star reported.

In granting the Star’s appeal, John Higgins, an adjudicator with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, determined that physician-identified billings don’t count as “personal information,” and therefore aren’t exempt from disclosure.

In a 54-page order, Higgins said that even if physician-identified billings were deemed personal, a compelling public interest would outweigh the privacy exemption. Higgins ordered the health ministry to release the information to the Star by July 8.

“In my view, the concept of transparency, and in particular, the closely related goal of accountability, requires the identification of parties who receive substantial payments from the public purse, whether they are providing services to public bodies under contract or, as in this case, providing services to the public through their own business activities under an umbrella of public funding,” Higgins wrote.

Past privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian told the Star that the decision was “highly significant,” since it marks a substantial departure from previous commission rulings, which found physician-identified billings to be personal information.

The Ontario Medical Association isn’t happy with the ruling, saying it will lead to misunderstandings of how much doctors are actually taking home.

“We do not agree with the IPC’s decision,” association president Dr. Virginia Walley said in a statement. “We are currently assessing the merits of the decision and are reviewing our options. We continue to advocate that disclosure of billings without context does not provide the public with an adequate picture, and may lead to a misunderstanding of billings versus income. Without an understanding of each individual physician’s overhead costs (such as rent for clinic space, salaries and benefits paid to their office staff, medical equipment, and supplies), in addition to hours worked, one cannot truly interpret the data.”