Concerns about integrity of public health-care system prompt audits in B.C.

Microscope on public health-care system in B.C. as court case continues with Cambie Surgery Centre

With the blessing of the federal government, B.C. is putting three health clinics under the financial microscope amid long-standing concerns about overbilling and the integrity of the country’s public health-care system.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said her department reached an agreement with B.C. to audit the three clinics in hopes of rooting out the practice of extra-billing for medically necessary care, a violation of the Canada Health Act.

“The audit will determine the extent to which extra-billing and user fees have been a barrier to accessible care for people in British Columbia,” Philpott said in a statement Thursday.

Philpott’s newly appointed B.C. counterpart, former NDP leader Adrian Dix, said he strongly supports the audit agreement, which was negotiated under the province’s previous Liberal government.

“We have to act to ensure that access to medical care in B.C. is based on need and not on an individual’s ability to pay,” Dix said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

RELATED: Debate over private healthcare in B.C. heads to court next week

“That is the reason the law exists and that is something that has been fundamental to Canada’s health-care system for a long time and is something we strongly support.”

Health Canada and the province decided to proceed with the audits in March, he said, noting that a considerable amount of planning has flowed from that decision.

“The results of the audit may have consequences … but the audits haven’t been completed yet so commenting on conclusions that haven’t been drawn would be incorrect and unfair,” he said. “We are not assuming the results of the audits.”

RELATED: Society fighting private health care hosting talks

The Canada Health Act, which imposes conditions on the provinces and territories in exchange for health care funding, prohibits so-called extra billing or user charges for services that are deemed medically necessary.

Once extra-billing or user charges are confirmed, a dollar-for-dollar deduction from that region’s federal health transfer payment is required.

Some $204,145 was deducted from B.C.’s March 2016 transfer payments as a result of extra-billing and user charges for insured health services that were levied at private clinics in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Extra-billing occurs when a medical practitioner charges an insured patient who receives a covered health service an additional sum over and above what is paid for by a provincial or territorial insurance plan.

Questions about the public health-care system in B.C. have also been raised in a high-profile court case involving Dr. Brian Day of the Cambie Surgery Centre in Vancouver.

In the lawsuit, launched in 2010, Day is challenging B.C.’s ban on the purchase of private insurance for medically necessary services covered by the public system, arguing it forces patients to endure long wait times that can exacerbate their health problems.

The federal government is also engaged in the Cambie case, which it believes could have important implications for public health care across Canada.

Dix said “some of the principles” being defended by the government in the case are similar to the questions at play in the audits.

“It is what the Medical Services Commission in B.C. and the ministry of health are defending in that case,” he said.

Philpott, meanwhile, has also warned other provincial counterparts about extra-billing and user fees, noting Ottawa will not tolerate the practice.

She has applauded Quebec for its decision in January to ban user fees, and she has also been in discussions with Saskatchewan officials about upholding the Canada Health Act.

And she has been pushing back against a Saskatchewan law that allows private MRI scans if they are ordered by a doctor and if the private clinic does a second scan to someone on the public wait list at no charge.

Allowing people to pay for private scans contravenes the act, Philpott insists.

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

College buys a yurt to boost student success

Round tent-like structure part of college instructional shift

Soup kitchen sees “groundswell of community support”

Donations toward looming tax bill push non-profit back in the black

Terrace husband and wife honoured for saving each other’s lives

BC Ambulance presented each a Vital Link Award for separate incidents of CPR

Council supports lobby for fair share of cannabis tax revenue

The City of Terrace is throwing its support behind a West Kelowna… Continue reading

Airport registers modest passenger increase

Manager anticipates further growth in 2018 as expansion project nears completion

Airport registers modest passenger increase

Manager anticipates further growth in 2018 as expansion project nears completion

WestJet appeals lost bid to scrap harassment lawsuit

Airline argues judge was wrong to have dismissed the company’s application to strike the legal action

Can U.S. border guards search your phone? Yes, and here’s how

Secretary of homeland security explains a new policy that let’s border guards check phones

‘Beautiful writer’ Nancy Richler dies of cancer in Vancouver hospital

Montreal-born author spent most of her adult life in B.C. as a fiction writer and novelist

B.C. commuters vote to rename bus service to ‘Jeff’

The company asked and the people of Facebook answered

Students frustrated by UBCO response to harassment allegations

Students on the Kelowna campus were unaware of resources and worried about lack of communication

Opinion: Dare to be smarter

Just say no works for more than just substance abuse

‘Sing Me a Song’ about B.C. for a chance at $1,000 contest prize

Entries due by March 30 for lieutenant-governor’s British Columbia-themed competition

Facing reality of death, B.C. man learns real meaning of life

Even while preparing for the end, something inside Keven Drews won’t let him stop living

Most Read