The B.C. Medical Services Commission says it has found evidence of patients being charged for publicly insured medical services at two Vancouver clinics.

The audit looked at the Cambie Surgery Centre and the Specialist Referral Clinic, which are owned by the same company

"The audit, which involved multiple visits to the clinics and a review of hundreds of cases, found clear evidence of extra billing," said Tom Vincent, chair of the Medical Services Commission.

"Now that we have this information, we are taking the necessary steps to enforce the act."

Of the 468 cases reviewed by the auditors, Vincent said 205 had services billed to a beneficiary contrary to the Medicare Protection Act, which prohibits billing patients for publicly insured medical services under Sections 17 and 18.  The bills for the services totalled almost $500,000.

The commission has given the two clinics 30 days to stop the extra billing, but Vincent says the commission has no power to impose financial penalties or recover funds from the clinics.

"The commission's objective here is to bring a halt to the practice of extra billing," he said. "I don't think we'll be recovering funds from the clinics. What we'd like is to stop the practice."

Legal fight

Dr. Brian Day, the medical director at the two clinics, says they have no intention of changing their billing practices as ordered by the commission.

"My position basically is that ... the commission has wasted money that it should have been spending on delivering health care to British Columbia residents on an audit  to find out exactly what we would have told them if they had made a phone call to the clinic."

Day says the clinics will fight the review in court, saying it is unconstitutional to keep patients suffering while they are stuck on waiting lists.

 "We allow  a patient who is suffering on a waitlist who needs an operation to pay and rent their own operating room and pay for the nurses and pay for the equipment so that they don't deteriorate and suffer as they wait."

The Medical Services Commission is an independent body that manages the Medical Services Plan on behalf of the B.C. government.