With the blessing of the federal government, British Columbia is putting three health clinics under the financial microscope amid long-standing concerns about overbilling and the integrity of the country's public health-care system.
Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said her department reached an agreement with B.C. to audit the three clinics in hopes of rooting out the practice of extra-billing for medically necessary care, a violation of the Canada Health Act.
"The audit will determine the extent to which extra-billing and user fees have been a barrier to accessible care for people in British Columbia," Philpott said in a statement Thursday.
Philpott's newly appointed B.C. counterpart, former NDP leader Adrian Dix, said he strongly supports the audit agreement, which was negotiated under the province's previous Liberal government.
"We have to act to ensure that access to medical care in B.C. is based on need and not on an individual's ability to pay," Dix said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
"That is the reason the law exists and that is something that has been fundamental to Canada's health-care system for a long time and is something we strongly support."
Extra fees for medically necessary procedures prohibited
Health Canada and the province decided to proceed with the audits in March, he said, noting that a considerable amount of planning has flowed from that decision.
"The results of the audit may have consequences ... but the audits haven't been completed yet so commenting on conclusions that haven't been drawn would be incorrect and unfair," he said.
"We are not assuming the results of the audits."
The Canada Health Act, which imposes conditions on the provinces and territories in exchange for health care funding, prohibits so-called extra billing or user charges for services that are deemed medically necessary.
Once extra-billing or user charges are confirmed, a dollar-for-dollar deduction from that region's federal health transfer payment is required.