Not only should the general public be prevented from learning the identities of Ontario’s top-billing doctors, but so should a three-judge panel that has been asked to overturn an order for the names to be publicly disclosed, a lawyer representing some of the physicians has argued.
“I’m not opposed to having the court have a sealed envelope with the identities of the clients,” lawyer Chris Dockrill told Ontario Divisional Court Justice Ian Nordheimer on Friday.
“If we are successful in the applications, the document presumably gets destroyed or gets returned or forever stays in that morass out there where the court stores and loses things,” he continued.
Dockrill, who is acting for “several affected physicians,” and lawyers for two other groups of doctors are seeking a judicial review of an order made last June by the office of the Ontario privacy commissioner to release the names of Ontario’s 160 top-billing doctors.
The privacy commissioner’s office ruled in favour of an appeal by the Toronto Star in ordering the release of names.
The Star requested physician-identified billing data from Ontario’s Health Ministry in April 2014. For most of the doctors in question, data were provided on annual fee-for-service payments from the Ontario Health Insurance Plan and medical specialties. But names were withheld because the ministry deemed their release would be an unjustified invasion of privacy.
John Higgins, an adjudicator with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, wrote in his decision that public disclosure is in the best interest of transparency and accountability.
Departing from previous rulings, Higgins said physician-identified billings are not “personal information” and, therefore, not exempt from disclosure under the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Such data is made public in other provinces such as Manitoba and B.C. Physician-identified billing data is also publicly disclosed in the U.S.
The judicial review will be argued before a panel of three judges on June 19 and 20.