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BC considering selling health services to visitors

The British Columbia government is hoping to sell surgeries to people from outside the province, but has no plans to allow British Columbians to pay for quicker access, says the minister responsible.

“The principle is whether we can generate revenue with our system similar to what we do in post-secondary education,” said health minister Kevin Falcon.

In October there was talk of selling B.C. surgeries to the Saskatchewan government for patients from that province, a proposal that died after Saskatchewan politicians balked at paying the “premium” Falcon said was needed to make it happen.

Today Falcon said on CKNW radio that he was still hoping to sell access to B.C. health services. “If I can generate revenue that will mean British Columbians get faster, quicker, better service by capitalizing on the outstanding skill sets that we have in this province,” he said. “I think we ought to look at that, and we are looking at that.”

Later Falcon told reporters at the legislature that the province might charge visitors four or five times what it costs to provide a surgery, using facilities at times when they are available, such as on evenings or weekends. The money would be put back into providing health services for British Columbians, he said.

“This is, as usual, not thought through and not very thoughtful on the part of the minister,” said NDP health critic Adrian Dix. “What he's talking about is organized queue jumping, organized two-tier health care.”

People of B.C. paid for the hospitals and the beds and shouldn't be forced to wait longer for surgeries so the minister can sell them to people from elsewhere, said Dix.

It's a short step from charging visitors for surgeries to also selling surgeries to British Columbians who are willing to pay, said Dix, noting the practice is prohibited under federal laws.

Asked what's stopping him from offering surgery-for-pay to British Columbians, Falcon said, “That would be a violation of the Canada Health Act. You can not charge people for medically necessary services.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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