British Columbia

Private medical clinics in B.C. win court injunction over billing fines

A B.C. Supreme Court ruling has given private clinics a reprieve from fines they could have faced from the province over billing, saying dumping patients from accessing private procedures could cause harm.

B.C. Supreme Court justice says dumping patients from private system could cause harm

Dr. Brian Day won a legal battle Friday, as a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled the province couldn't fine private clinics for so-called extra billing practices until a trial on the matter concludes. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

A B.C. Supreme Court ruling has given private clinics a reprieve from fines they could have faced from the province over billing, saying dumping patients from accessing private procedures could cause harm.

The ruling comes amidst a nine year case the court has been considering. It pits Dr. Brian Day and his private Cambie Surgery Centre against the province and will determine whether to allow private insurers in B.C. to pay for services available under the public health system and whether doctors can charge privately for services.

In April, provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix announced that, starting Oct. 1, doctors who charge patients for medically necessary procedures will face initial fines of $10,000 as part of amendments to the Medicare Protection Act or MPA.

Private clinics are not illegal, though billing for medically necessary care is a violation of the Canada Health Act.

At the time, Day said private clinics may be forced to close when the law went into effect. It allows the province to investigate so-called extra billing practices and penalize physicians who don't reimburse patients.

Day and his group applied for an injunction delaying application of the law, and on Friday in a written ruling, Justice Janet Winteringham granted it.

"Some patients will suffer serious physical and/or psychological harm while waiting for health services, " she wrote, pointing out some physicians may not provide private-pay medically necessary health services under amendments to the MPA or at the very least some patients would have to wait longer for them.

"It is this waiting with no option to pursue an alternative that engages security of the person rights and tips the balance of convenience in favour of the Plaintiffs," she wrote. 

Winteringham granted the injunction until June 1, 2019, as she expects the latest proceedings over the constitutional challenge to wrap up by April 1, 2019.

With files from the Canadian Press.

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