Katya Slepian/Columbia Valley Pioneer
Practitioners could face fines of up to $20,000
The province is cracking down on medical practitioners doublebilling for services already covered by B.C.'s Medical Services Plan, introducing new fines worth tens of thousands of dollars.
On Wednesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the move brings into force outstanding sections of the 2003 Medicare Protection Amendment Act. Double billing is already illegal, Dix said, just not properly enforced.
"I am taking action today to protect our public healthcare system, and to correct the previous government's failure to enforce the law, something done at the expense of patients," he said.
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A 2017-18 health ministry audit found three private clinics had overbilled for services by $15.9 million. Last month, the federal government cut the amount from B.C.'s health funding, after Health Canada reviewed the audit.
Dix said the province is asking Ottawa to restore the funding in light of Wednesday's announcement.
Three audits are already underway for the 2018-19 fiscal year, and three others are on the way.
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Now, a medical practitioner's first doublebilling conviction will cost $10,000. The second offence will cost $20,000, and they may be un-enrolled from the Medical Services Plan, meaning they won't be able to bill the province their work and get paid.
The new rules don't affect patients paying for procedures not covered by provincial health care.
Anyone who has been overbilled will be refunded by the Medical Service Commission.
Edith MacHattie, the co-chair of the BC Healthcare Coalition, said that she was happy to see government finally enforcing its own laws.
MacHattie said that the coalition heard from patients who felt like they had no other choice but to pay clinic for the procedures they needed.
"Clinics are taking advantage of patients who are in pain and desperate," she said.
"People are overpaying to the tune of thousands of dollars."
The most common overbilling targets simple, common procedures such as orthopaedic and cataract surgeries, MacHattie noted.