Private diagnostic and surgical clinics have won another reprieve, this time from their nemesis — the provincial government, which would prefer to see them shut down.
It means that doctors providing care to patients seeking expedited treatment at private clinics across B.C. can continue doing so for at least for another year, as long as they don’t double bill both the government and patients.
The government has put off bringing into force a Medicare Protection Act amendment that would have harshly penalized doctors who provided expedited care to patients in private clinics. The decision was in the form of an NDP cabinet order and there was no press release announcing the decision.
The amendment — which allowed for fines and even criminal fraud charges — were supposed to take effect last October and could have forced dozens of clinics to close.
But surgery clinics won an injunction in November that effectively ordered the government not to enforce the amendment until after the marathon trial over medicare that began three years ago, initiated by lead plaintiff Dr. Brian Day, is over sometime this year or next.
The government tried, but was denied, to get leave to appeal the injunction two months ago.
Since the injunction dealt only with private surgery clinics, it left diagnostic clinics offering private MRI, CT and PET scan imaging out. The government had said that on April 1, diagnostic clinics would have to comply with the act.
The amendment is now scheduled to take effect on March 31, 2020, which means private facilities have at least another year in business. The clinics have always disputed the rationale for “draconian” fines and penalties and maintained the legislation would force them out of business.
Hummerston said he’s not aware of any clinics that have gone out of business but said some have lost administrative staff, technologists and radiologists due to the legal uncertainty.
Stephen May, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said the government changed the date when the Act will take effect because of the medicare trial and the injunction.
“Consistent with the court’s decision to grant an injunction in a similar case, section 18.1 of the Medicare Protection Act will not come in to force until March 31, 2020 — after the expected completion of the Cambie Surgeries trial. This decision respects the court’s prior decision. … (But) we are committed to stop extra billing.”
May said the government has put an additional $11 million into magnetic resonance imaging in the public system to reach a total of 225,000 MRIs in 2018-19.
“This is approximately 35,000 more MRI exams than the previous year. We are ahead of these targets with hundreds of more operating hours added across the province and more MRI machines running 24/7 than ever,” he said.
Day said the fact that the cabinet order was passed was proof the amendment was unnecessary in the first place.
“The action confirms that there is, and never has been, any health-related rationale for pursuing these amendments. They were merely aimed at prohibiting patients from accessing private options to care for themselves, especially when the actions were taken during the course of a trial aimed at discovering the legality of those prohibitions. It is a perfect example of ideology taking precedence over reason and logic, not to mention ideology trumping the rights of suffering patients.”