Alberta government to investigate private medical clinic in Calgary

The Alberta government has confirmed the special investigations unit of Service Alberta will conduct a rigorous investigation of the Copeman Healthcare Centre in Calgary.

Billing practices and over-testing of patients at Alberta clinics to be probed

The Copeman clinics in Calgary and Edmonton are under investigation by a special unit of the Alberta government. (CBC/Copeman Healthcare Centre Facebook)

A special investigations unit within the Alberta government has been asked to probe the Copeman Clinic in Calgary.  

The move follows a CBC investigation and allegations of over-testing patients at the private clinic, as well as billing practices that pass costs on to both the provincial and federal governments.

"I've directed my ministry to take a more rigorous approach, and there's going to be an investigation," Health Minister Sarah Hoffmann said in the legislature on Thursday.

"We will not allow excessive billing practices that undermine Albertans' access to universal public health care."

The minister's spokesman confirmed the special investigations unit of Service Alberta will conduct the work, which is able to be "more rigorous" than Alberta Health.  

Alberta Health is also auditing both the Calgary and Edmonton Copeman clinics, to ensure the Canada Health Act is upheld, the minister said previously.

Copeman's two Alberta clinics are part of a national chain of private medical clinics. The CBC investigation involved interviews with over half a dozen current and former Calgary clinic staff.

Sources described a system for testing patients at the clinic that was set down by head office in Vancouver, and routinely circumvented sign-off by Calgary Copeman doctors. This is a practice, they say, that began as early as 2011 and continued until last year.  

The sources say both the province and patients were billed for many medical tests provided by the clinic, including ECGs and stress test ECGs. In the case of laboratory work, much of the analysis for blood and urine tests is conducted by provincially-funded facilities, and the cost is absorbed by the public system.

Some patient bills itemize costs for this work, and are structured so that patients and their employers, through health-spending accounts, may apply the expense as a tax deduction.

Erin Nelson, professor and expert in health law at the University of Alberta, described the billing practices as a grey area of the law.

A call to Chris Nedelman, Copeman's Calgary CEO, was not returned.