VANCOUVER - The British Columbia government filed an application Wednesday for an injunction that would force a controversial private clinic operator to stop billing patients, a move that will likely see the province's courts become the latest to weigh the constitutionality of this country's health-care laws.
The province's Medical Services Commission released an audit last month that concluded the Cambie Surgery Centre and the Specialist Referral Clinic, which are owned by the same company, have been illegally billing patients for procedures that are supposed to be covered by the public system.
The commission ordered them to stop the practice by Aug. 17, but the clinics ignored that deadline, prompting the request for an injunction. No date has been set to hear the application.
The audit's findings were no surprise. The clinics' outspoken operator, Dr. Brian Day, has openly admitted flouting the health-care law for more than a decade, repeatedly challenging the province to attempt to shut him down.
With the injunction, it appears Day has received his wish.
The doctor has already filed his own court case challenging the constitutionality of the province's health-care law, which effectively bans clinics from billing patients for services already covered by the public system.
He suggested the pending fight over the injunction will only hasten his ability to make his arguments.
"We consider this application good news for us, because as you know, court hearings take a long time, and we will be able to put our arguments before the dispassionate and objective judge," Day said in an interview Wednesday.
"The arguments will be before the court for them to reflect on and they'll be in the public domain, and the arguments are very powerful on our side. The commission will have to argue that patients should wait and suffer."
The Medical Services Commission issued a statement confirming it filed the injunction application, but it declined further comment.
The commission's audit concluded the clinics were engaged in a practice known as "extra billing," which refers to any instance in which a patient is billed for a procedure that is supposed to be covered by the provincial health-care plan.
The Cambie Surgery Centre opened in 1996 and offers a range of procedures, from orthopedic surgery to neurosurgery. The Specialist Referral Clinic opened several years after that and provides quick access to medical specialists who, in turn, offer to refer patients to Cambie Surgery Centre.
Last week, more than a dozen doctors and health-care workers gathered for a protest outside one of Day's facilities, calling on the B.C. government to put an end to private billing at the clinics.
Earlier this year, two people from Alberta who paid for care in the United States launched separate court challenges of that province's health-care laws.
In 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a Quebec law that banned private insurance in that province.
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