Telus has been given more time to respond to a British Columbia application for an injunction to stop the company from extra-billing for health services.
The province's Medical Services Commission filed for the injunction in the BC Supreme Court on Dec. 1 and Telus was to make its initial response to the court within three weeks.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said the parties have agreed to an extension.
“Following the Commission’s application for an injunction, Telus has a period of time to serve its response before a date is set for a hearing of the application,” they said. “The standard response time is 21 days, but an extension was agreed upon until the end of January.”
Spokespeople for Telus did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.
With representatives from the government, Doctors of BC and the public, the nine-member MSC manages the Medical Services Plan and is responsible for ensuring some $2.5 billion is spent in accord with the province’s laws and regulations.
Under the Medicare Protection Act, doctors who receive payments under the public plan may not charge a patient directly for any service normally paid for through the plan. Nor may a provider give preferential access to somebody in exchange for payment, or refuse to give insured care to someone who does not pay an extra fee.
The MSC began the review of Telus’s LifePlus program last February.
According to the petition the Medical Services Commission filed in court in December, “The Commission has investigated and determined that Telus Health is charging for or in relation to MSP covered medical services such that a reasonable person would consider that the purchase of Telus Health’s services would result in preferential treatment or priority access to those services.”
The application for an injunction included four affidavits, with one from Mike Campbell, a private investigator, who Telus quoted a price of $4,882 for the first year in the LifePlus Program and $3,882 for subsequent years.
According to the affidavit, a Telus Health clinical enrolment nurse told Campbell he would be unable to see any of the family doctors employed in the program unless he paid the fee to become a member.
Another of the affidavits is from Mark Winston, who last January wrote an article for The Tyee about being asked to pay a fee to keep seeing his doctor after the doctor closed his private practice and began working for Telus Health.
The commission is seeking a declaration that Telus Health is in breach of Section 17 of the Medicare Protection Act which prohibits extra billing and asks the court “to enjoin Telus Health from continuing this conduct.”
In a December news conference Telus’s vice-president of consumer health, Juggy Sihota, said the corporation was surprised by the court action and it was unnecessary since Telus had been co-operating fully with the MSC review and is committed to complying with regulations.
“We do not charge for primary care services with our LifePlus service,” she said. “Our fee is [for] preventative health uninsured services like dieticians, kinesiologists and wellness services.”
Sihota said the court action felt “rather political” and that the government should be focused on fixing significant issues in the public health-care system “rather than firing bullets indiscriminately.”
Health Minister Adrian Dix said at the time that the government is strongly committed to defending public health care and extra billing will not be allowed.
“It is very important to uphold the Medicare Protection Act, which is in place to preserve our publicly managed and fiscally sustainable health-care system,” Dix said. “Access to necessary medical care should be based on need and not an individual’s ability to pay.”
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