The BC Medical Service Commission’s court action against telecommunications company Telus has ended with an agreement the corporation will no longer offer access to family doctors for patients who pay thousands of dollars in fees, Health Minister Adrian Dix said today.
“I couldn’t be more delighted,” said Dix. “What the settlement does is bring them into compliance with the [Medicare Protection Act] in our view.”
The parties came to a mutual agreement “following a highly collaborative, transparent and thoughtful process,” Telus Health chief growth officer Juggy Sihota said in a prepared statement to the Canadian Press. The agreement includes “Telus Health modifying some of the program’s operational processes over time to ensure a clearer delineation between insured and uninsured care delivery while maintaining continuity of care for its clients,” it said.
Under the Medicare Protection Act, doctors who receive payments under the public Medical Services 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.
On Dec. 1 the MSC filed for an injunction in the BC Supreme Court alleging Telus’s LifePlus program’s billing practices contravened the Act.
The nine-member MSC has representatives from the government, Doctors of BC and the public. It is responsible for ensuring some $2.5 billion from the MSP is spent in accordance with the province’s laws and regulations.
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.
“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 MSC’s court filing said.
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 he was concerned last year when he heard about doctors moving to Telus and telling their patients that they would have to pay a fee if they wanted to keep seeing them. “That obviously doesn’t work.”
Under the agreement, which has not been made public, current members of the LifePlus program will retain access to a family doctor through other Telus programs, but LifePlus will not be able to add new patients expecting to get access to insured services through the program, said Dix.
“They won’t be offering physician services, which is a key issue here,” he said, adding that the province’s goal was to protect patients.
A similar but separate lawsuit against Harrison Healthcare remains unresolved.