British Columbia

B.C. Health Coalition concerned over complaints of patients being billed for referrals

B.C. Health Coalition co-chair Rick Turner is concerned doctors across the province are billing patients for referrals, which he thinks is illegal

'We think it's contrary to the rules and we think it needs to be stopped'

The B.C. Health Coalition's Rick Turner says doctors who are charging for referrals are in contravention of the province's Medicare Protection Act. (Shutterstock)

If you've ever needed a sick note from a clinic or an insurance form filled out from a medical clinic, there's a good chance that you've had to pay a fee for that. But have you ever been charged for a referral to a specialist?

Complaints from patients who have been charged by a doctor for a referral to a specialist like a physiotherapist are on the rise according to the B.C. Health Coalition — an organization made up of labour, community health and social agencies advocating for improvements in the public health-care system.

Rick Turner, who co-chairs the coalition, says that since doctors are already paid by the province through the Medical Services Plan, he considers this type of billing to be illegal.

"We think it's contrary to the rules, and we think it needs to be stopped," said Turner.

"Doctors are already paid by MSP to see a patient and referrals provided within that appointment would be considered part of that visit." 

Turner says he would like to see the problem looked into before it gets out of hand. He suggests implementing a service similar to Ontario, where a patients can call a toll free number or send an email if they suspect they have been incorrectly billed. Turner also suggests private practices should be audited more often.

"How far is this going to go? Will they start charging patients for prescriptions?," he said.

Turner says the B.C. Health Coalition is raising the issue with the province's Medical Services Commission and asking them to assess it and make a ruling. 

'Filling out forms isn't a medical service'

Meanwhile, Doctors of B.C. president Dr. Trina Larsen Soles says physicians have the right to charge for paperwork under certain conditions.

"MSP pays you to look after the patient … but that doesn't include filling out an insurance form," Soles said.

"If I see a patient in my office and they need whatever sort of therapy, my referrals to those sorts of therapies are part of that particular visit."

But Soles says that if a patient brings a form for a doctor to fill out or sign that is unrelated to the visit, then the doctor can charge for that.

"Filling out forms isn't a medical service, that's why we're allowed to charge for filling out forms," said Soles.

In a written statement provided to the CBC, the Medical Services Commission said, "Upon initial review, it appears to the Medical Services Commission that the practice of a doctor charging a patient for a referral to an allied medical professional would ordinarily be a violation of Section 17 of the Medicare Protection Act​."

With files from Daybreak South

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