February 25, 2024

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Medical Services Commission, Telus Health settle dispute over fees for care: B.C. health minister

The commission that manages British Columbia’s $2.5-billion health-care system is no longer seeking a court injunction against a program operated by Telus that charged thousands of dollars a year for access to care, the province’s health minister says.

Adrian Dix said at a news conference on Wednesday that the Medical Services Commission (MSC), which oversees B.C.’s public health insurance program, and Telus Health’s LifePlus program had settled their dispute and the program was now in compliance with the Medicare Protection Act.

“This is how we act to protect health-care services in B.C,” said Dix at a news conference in Victoria on Wednesday.

The act ensures access to necessary medical care is based on need, not an individual’s ability to pay. 

In December the MSC filed an injunction asking the courts to declare that LifePlus violated the Medicare Protection Act by charging patients for services that should be publicly covered.

It sought an interim, interlocutory and permanent court order to stop Telus Health’s physicians from providing MSP-covered services.

Telus Health denied the accusations in December, saying its program is only trying to relieve pressure on the public system and that the fees — between $3,000 and $5,000 — were strictly for uninsured dietitians, kinesiologists and other health and wellness needs.

The settlement means Telus has to change how its MyCare program operates when it comes to billing taxpayers. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

‘Ensure a clearer delineation’

On Wednesday, the company said in a statement that the settlement was the result of a “highly collaborative, transparent and thoughtful process.”

The agreement will result in the MSC withdrawing its petition against LifePlus, and Telus Health modifying the program “to ensure a clearer delineation between insured and uninsured care delivery while maintaining continuity of care for its clients,” the company said.

Dix said at the news conference he was “delighted” with the settlement and that continued changes to health care in the province, such as a new payment model aimed at recruiting and retaining more family doctors, are making a difference.

He said the province has helped bring the number of residents without a family doctor — once estimated to be a million residents — to under 900,000.

A digital sign reading 'Telus Health Care Centre' as people pass by.
Telus had insisted that its activities were legal and involved specialist doctors not part of B.C.’s public health insurance system. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Telus Health said on Wednesday it wants to play a role in relieving the pressure on the system.

“In a challenging and evolving health environment, Telus Health is committed to continuing to be a collaborative partner in providing innovative health solutions to people in British Columbia,” it said.

Green Party disappointed with decision

Green Party MLA Adam Olsen told CBC News that he was “surprised” to see Telus did not draw any significant penalties as part of the settlement.

“What we see here is a pretty light touch, frankly,” he said. “We’ve seen this privatized health-care system under the B.C. NDP continuing to grow despite their rhetoric saying that they support accessible, equitable universal health care.”

Olsen said the settlement announced Wednesday did nothing other than clarify the rules surrounding the Medicare Protection Act, so that other companies could “find a space to grow and continue to undermine and erode the services that British Columbians can receive.”

Karen Palmer, a health policy researcher and adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University, said it was “very encouraging” that the province was trying to stop services from unlawfully billing patients for access to services.

“I think that we all need to remain vigilant,” she told CBC News. “Patients are being asked to pay privately for what they believe are insured services provided by enrolled physicians. They have to continue to report them to the Medical Services Commission so that they can continue to investigate.

“I don’t think this [settlement] is going to stop it in its tracks but I think it will  certainly make other entities that are trying to charge patients unlawfully sit up and pay attention.”