Monday, April 09, 2007

False promises

Last fall, it was reported that B.C. Health Minister George Abbott had reached a "compromise" under which the False Creek Surgical Centre would operate as a publicly-funded facility rather than opening the door to private emergency rooms. But today, word comes out that the clinic in fact never operated that way, and is brazenly implementing a fully patient-funded model now that the initial outcry has died down:
A private Vancouver emergency clinic is reopening for British Columbia residents after apparently finding a loophole in provincial public health care rules.

The Urgent Care Centre at the False Creek Surgical Centre charges fees for on-site access to emergency room physicians. The...facility has been treating out of province and foreign patients since it opened last December...

The clinic was initially open to anyone but after discussions with the government, it pulled the plug on B.C. residents.

Medical director Dr. Mark Godley says the clinic has now hired emergency care doctors who have never enrolled with the B.C. Medical Services Plan, allowing them to levy private fees.
Today's announcement makes it apparent that Abbott must have been either lying about the nature of the "compromise" to begin with, or utterly negligent in making sure the clinic lived up to its side of the bargain. After all, the False Creek clinic surely can't have been seen as "operating like any other walk-in clinic" if its policy has been to refuse to treat B.C. residents in order to make sure that all payments were received from patients rather than from the publicly-funded system.

Meanwhile, it's far from certain that the clinic is correct in asserting that it's legally in the clear. On a quick review of B.C.'s Medicare Protection Act, the clinic would be subject to prosecution at least if its fees exceed the payment guidelines set out under the public system. Moreover, the linked version may not reflect amendments to the Medicare Protection Act which were apparently passed last fall to enable the provincial government to take action against similar schemes.

At this point, though, there's less reason than ever to trust that the B.C. Libs will make use of any means to protect publicly-funded health care even if those mechanisms already exist. And it remains to be seen whether the False Creek clinic's delay tactics will succeed in preventing any amount of public attention from correcting matters now.

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