07/18/2012 03:51 EDT | Updated 09/17/2012 05:12 EDT

B.C. Health Clinics, Cambie Surgeries And Specialist Referral Clinic, Extra Billing Patients

VANCOUVER - Two private health clinics in Vancouver have been found to be illegally billing patients for services covered by the public system and have been ordered to stop or face court action.

The order from the B.C. Medical Services Commission involves Cambie Surgeries Corp. and the Specialist Referral Clinic, which are owned by the same company.

Commission chair Tom Vincent said an audit found more than 200 cases in which the clinics billed patients for medical services that are already publicly-funded under the provincial health plan. The practice violates the B.C.'s Medicare Protection Act, he said.

The bills for the services totalled almost $500,000.

Vincent said the clinics have been told to stop the practice within 30 days or the commission will seek a court injunction.

But Vincent said the commission has no power to impose financial penalties or recover funds from the clinics.

It's not clear what exactly will happen to the clinics.

B.C.'s health minister, Mike de Jong, discussed the commission's findings with reporters but declined to speculate on what might happen if the clinics don't follow the order.

"I'm not going to speculate beyond that point as to what further enforcement actions the medical services commission would take," said de Jong.

De Jong pointed out the province has pledged to abide by the provisions of the Canada Health Act and this audit and injunction are part of that obligation.

The federal government has the power to deny health-care funding for violations of the Canada Health Act, but de Jong said B.C. taxpayers wouldn't be on the hook if that happens.

Instead, he said the province would be seeking compensation if the province is penalized.

"The Crown has already anticipated that risk," he said.

De Jong said the initial investigation into the clinics stemmed from private complaints from the clinic's clients going back "a number of years."

But private clinic advocate Dr. Brian Day, who heads both clinics, said the audit is a waste of money because his business has never tried to hide how it operates.

He said bureaucrats "attacking" the clinic are doing so out of self-preservation.

"Why do you need to go through this process of spending two years auditing a clinic to find out something they freely admit they do?" said Day.

"I do resent paying taxes to subsidize this kind of effort."

Day also said the initial complaint that lead to the audit was made by a client of another private clinic, and his operation is under scrutiny because of its high profile.

He insisted restricting access to health care is unconstitutional. He intends to fight any attempt at an injunction with the argument it would deny health care to those in need, but said the clinic will obey the court's decision whatever the outcome.

"If there is an injunction against Cambie we won't treat B.C. patients," said Day, adding he has many clients from Alberta.

"That means Albertans have more rights and privileges in B.C. than B.C. residents."

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