Two private medical clinics in Vancouver have been ordered to stop extra billing their patients for publicly insured services after a provincial audit found them in breach of the law.
Health Minister Mike De Jong said B.C.'s Medical Services Commission has indicated it will seek a court injunction to enforce compliance if the Cambie Surgery Centre and Specialist Referral Clinic don't cease and desist within 30 days.
The audit concluded extra billing happened in more than 200 cases totaling nearly $500,000.
The commission independently enforces the Medicare Protection Act, which ensures B.C. clinics operate in line with the Canada Health Act and that medical care is delivered based on need and not a patient's ability to pay.
"That is the law in British Columbia and we expect every operator to operate within the law," De Jong told reporters Wednesday.
"The findings today from the medical services commission suggests that in these two instances that has not been occurring."
Former health minister Kevin Falcon ordered the audit in 2010 after a complaint that the principles of Medicare were being violated.
Dr. Brian Day, president of the two clinics, contends the law is unconstitutional and intends to fight any attempted injunction in court while continuing to operate as usual.
He argues patients should be allowed to pay for-profit clinics to avoid long waits for care in the underfunded public system, freeing up resources there.
"Done properly, opening up our health system to the greater availability to private health care will benefit everyone," he said. "Canada is the only developed country in the world that denies its citizens that choice."
Queue-jumping already happens for patients funded by WorkSafeBC or the federal government – including inmates and RCMP officers – and Day argues the broader public should also have the option, in line with a 2005 Supreme Court of Canada decision that struck down Quebec restrictions on private health care.
"Waiting for necessary medical treatment in the monopoly government health care system imposes significant financial, emotional, and physical health burden on British Columbians and their families," he said.
Day's clinics are already suing the government, arguing the Medicare Protection Act is unconstitutional and he said individual plaintiffs are joining the case, on grounds they needed immediate care available only through Cambie Surgery Centre.
NDP health critic Mike Farnworth accused the province of being slow and ineffective in cracking down against the clinics.
He also noted the province opted not to give the Medical Services Commission the power to fine violators when it enacted the legislation.
"They don't have the enforcement powers they were supposed to have," he said. "The government has slow-walked this whole thing."
Farnworth said B.C. now risks being fined by Ottawa for failing to comply with the Canada Health Act.