BC’s medical services agency is taking a more aggressive stance against private health clinics allegedly carrying out illegal extra billing, as shown by its latest legal salvo against a Vancouver-based clinic.
The province is cracking down on private health clinics at a time when Ontario is studying private surgery facilities to reduce wait times.
The Medical Services Commission has asked for an injunction against Harrison Healthcare, alleging that the company, which has clinics in Vancouver and Calgary, is charging patients for “bundled” health services covered under the public health-care system in violation of the Medicare Protection Act . The allegations have not been proven in court.
The injunction application filed in BC Supreme Court on Feb. 1 makes similar arguments to one filed by the commission in December against Telus Health in December, targeting the company’s subscription-based health service, Life Plus.
On its website, Harrison Healthcare touts its “premier” health program, which costs patients $5,500 in the first year and $4,500 a year after that. A preventative care program for teens and young adults costs $1,600 a year, and services for children costs $675 a year.
The company stresses “fees for programs are strictly for the uninsured components of care,” according to the website.
The court petition alleges Harrison Healthcare “is charging for or in relation to MSP covered medical services such that a reasonable person would consider that the purchase of Harrison Healthcare’s services would result in preferential treatment or priority access to those services.”
Harrison Healthcare also touts on its website that its eight family physicians have a small roster of fewer than 400 patients. This is compared to a typical BC family physician who has a patient roster of around 1,250 patients. The company’s website says it has plans to open eight new clinics over the next three years, including another in Vancouver, and new clinics in Victoria, Kelowna, the North Shore, South Surrey/Langley, and three more outside of BC
Harrison Healthcare is owned by Don Copeman. He founded Copeman Healthcare in 2005, which was acquired by Telus Health in 2018.
Copeman said the clinic has not yet filed its response to the petition. However, he said in an email to Postmedia “we are confident that we are complying with the legislation.”
When asked if the BC government is directing the commission to take a more aggressive stance against private health-care clinics, Health Minister Adrian Dix did not directly answer.
“I believe in public health care, and I believe in the Medicare Protection Act,” he said.
The Medical Services Commission is “taking the necessary options” to protect the province’s health system, Dix said.
“This isn’t the first step they take,” he said. “Obviously, you don’t want to be in court. You want to resolve issues before you go to court.”
The BC NDP’s first throne speech under Premier David Eby made clear that the province is moving away from private health care, even while provinces such as Ontario look to private clinics to reduce surgical wait times.
Private health care, according to the speech, is “a dangerous step toward a two-tiered system we know British Columbians do not want.”
BC Green party leader Sonia Furstenau said despite the rhetoric in the throne speech, the government has created the conditions for private clinics to thrive “in the vacuum of primary health care in BC” where an estimated one million people are without a family doctor.
“They’ve been able to really take advantage of the fact that we do not have an effective primary health-care system in BC, and it has weakened in the last several years,” said Furstenau.
In July, the BC Court of Appeal upheld the province’s ban on private health care. The three justices were unanimous that BC’s ban on doctors’ extra billing and limits to private health insurance did not violate the Constitution, but acknowledged that people are suffering and dying from waiting too long for necessary medical care.
The case brought by Dr. Brian Day of the Cambie Surgery Centre, argued that regulated private surgical services and private health insurance could take pressure off the public system and provide a “safety valve” to patients facing long waiting times.
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