Health minister's plan to ban extra billing would hurt patients, specialists say

Health Minister Gaétan Barrette's plans to ban auxiliary fees at the doctor's office will make it more difficult for patients to get essential treatment in a timely manner, says the Quebec Federation of Medical Specialists.

Group takes issue with plan to put an end to auxiliary fees

Quebec's health minister has committed to putting an end to extra billing practices. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Health Minister Gaétan Barrette's plans to ban auxiliary fees at the doctor's office will make it more difficult for patients to get essential treatment in a timely manner, says the Quebec Federation of Medical Specialists.

"In Quebec, specialist services are offered outside of the hospitals, much more than other provinces," Diane Francœur, the head of the association, said during a news conference Thursday.

Francoeur said the fees allow them to purchase badly needed equipment.

"We aren't discussing eye drops," she said. "It's equipment that could be very expensive and that needs to be paid by somebody. Now we know it's not going to be the patient. We worry that these [pieces of] equipment will not be funded anymore...We have solutions. Now we need to sit down with the minister and make a plan."

But Barrette said there's no need for specialists to worry about being able to afford new machines.

"In the vast majority of instances, [the auxiliary fees] are for services that do not involve heavy equipment," Barrette said on CBC Radio One's Homerun on Thursday afternoon.

"It is true though that in very limited situations, it does involve heavy equipment, and there we are talking about mainly endoscopies and operating rooms...Doctors who want to practice those procedures outside the hospital should have gone private. Some of them do that, but some take money on both sides. They are paid on the public side and they're billing patients for paying for that equipment."

He said specialists will have to make a choice.

"Doctors will have to decide if they go totally private for the heavy procedures, or not."

Diane Francoeur, president of the Quebec Federation of Medical Specialists, slammed the province's plan for user fees. (CBC)
Barrette's commitment to putting an end to supplementary fees will take effect in mid-January 2017.

The extra fees that the doctors' office will be allowed to charge will be for the transport of biological samples from a private clinic or specialist, to a maximum of $15 for a blood sample and $5 for all other kinds of samples, Barrette said.

As well, a patient who needs a doctor to fill out and sign a form – for example, for the SAAQ, the province's automobile insurance board, or for an employer – would still be expected to pay $40 to $80.

Groups such as Canadian Doctors for Medicare have been pressing Quebec to crack down on user fees.

Dr. Monika Dutt, chair of the organization, said extra fees are an impediment to universal care.

"I'm thrilled this decision has finally been made," Dutt said.

Some examples of fees expected to be abolished include:

  • Eye drops: $20 to $300.
  • Inserting an IUD: $125 to $200.
  • Instruments and medication for a colonoscopy: $500.​

More details are expected to be released later this month.

With files from CBC Montreal's Homerun