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  • Volume Eight, Number Five: July 2003

    BC Liberals Penalized for Health Act Violations

    Marco Procaccini

    The BC Health Coalition is calling for an immediate investigation of private surgical clinic billing practices after learning the BC government was penalized, in the form of fines, by the federal government for two separate violations of the Canada Health Act in March.

    And while the fines will likely have a small impact on the provincial treasury, health coalition coordinator Terrie Hendrickson says the news has huge implications for BC patients and predicts that these violations represent just the tip of the iceberg.

    "Under this government's nose, patients are being charged by private companies for publicly insured health services," says Hendrickson. "And by tolerating this practice, our government is putting us on a fast track to two-tier health care.”

    Opposition across the province is growing to the government’s latest move to privatize the public health care system. Despite repeated pre-election promises to increase public health care funding and steer clear from private for-profit medical facilities, the Liberals have pursued a widespread contracting-out and downsizing measures, including the recent awarding of surgeries to private clinics.

    Health Minister Colin Hansen said, “We want to make sure we are getting the best value and we want to make sure we give

    patients in B.C. improved access to the care they need," he said. The coalition says the complaints and result federal sanctions

    show that is not happening under the government’s scheme.

    “Our health services minister insists that (he) can privatize thousands of surgical procedures without violating the Canada Health Act," adds Hendrickson. "But even now, it's clear that the province is unable or unwilling to police private clinics."

    Just last week, in response to allegations in the press that a now defunct private cataract clinic in North Vancouver had allowed queue jumping, health services minister Colin Hansen said he needed a patient to come forward.

    "It's not acceptable for the provincial government to sit back and wait for complaints to come in," says Hendrickson. "We need Victoria and its health authorities to proactively monitor private clinics and enforce the law.

    Meanwhile, the barrage of facility closures and layoffs continues, despite growing complaints of declining service quality and a failure by the government to realize any cost savings.

    Hendrickson says Hansen must take immediate steps to investigate the billing practices of private clinics. The health coalition also wants Hansen to release details of these Medicare violations and ban the private clinics involved from bidding on any surgical contracts from public bodies including health authorities, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia and the Workers' Compensation Board.

    "Without such action, the health services minister is just paying lip service to the principles of Medicare," said Hendrickson.

    The group is also calling for an immediate moratorium on health privatization.

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