Telus and B.C.’s Medical Services Commission are working to find a resolution outside of court in a dispute over the company allegedly extra billing patients for health services.
“If you’ve been watching the court process they’ve sought a couple of extensions, so they’re clearly in discussions,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said last week. “There’s not much more to say than that.”
The MSC filed for an injunction in the B.C. Supreme Court on Dec. 1 to prevent health clinics Telus owns from charging membership fees to patients.
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.
According to the court filing, “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.”
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.
According to one of the affidavits included in the MSC’s filing, Telus quoted a private investigator a price of $4,882 for the first year in the LifePlus Program and $3,882 for subsequent years and told him he could not see any of the family doctors employed in the program without paying the fee and becoming a member.
After the Dec. 1 filing, Telus had three weeks to make an initial response in court, but the parties agreed to an extension until the end of January.
As of April 3 there was still no response posted to the Court Services Online website.
A spokesperson for Telus did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.
Telus representatives have in the past said the fees were not for primary care services, but for uninsured preventative health services like dieticians, kinesiologists and wellness services.
Dix said Telus is in discussions with the ministry as well as the MSC, but there’s nothing to report from those talks yet either.
Asked about the possibility of developing guidelines for providers like Telus, Dix said in his view it was always clear the fee model contravened the Medicare Protection Act.
“It may or may not be useful to provide more information, but the expectation is pretty clear,” he said. “I think they made a pretty definitive decision, the commission did, and now they’re acting on that decision.”