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Public healthcare advocates protest double billing and two-tiered healthcare at Cambie clinic

Universal health advocates picket outside Cambie Surgery Centre on Monday. Photos by Beth Hong for The Vancouver Observer.

Chants and pickets filled the front lawn outside the Cambie Surgery Centre on Monday morning as a group of about 20 people gathered to call for the BC and federal governments to crack down on illegal billing at private clinics.

A Medical Services Commission of BC (MSC) audit report released on July 18 revealed 205 cases of extra-billing from the Cambie Surgery Centre and the Specialist Referral Centre totalling $500,000. At least $66,000 of this amount appeared to be double billing, which means the clinic collected money from both the patient and the BC government via the Medical Services Plan (MSP).

MSC Chairman Tom Vincent announced that the two clinics audited had thirty days to stop their double billing, or else face a court injunction to comply with Canadian law which outlaws the practice. Monday was the deadline for the clinics to comply.

Extra and double billing not a "trivial issue"

The MSC has a mandate "to ensure that all B.C. residents have reasonable access to medical care and to manage the provision and payment of medical services in an effective and cost-efficient manner".

Most of the protesters were doctors from Canadian Doctors for Medicare and concerned members of the BC Health Coalition and the Council of Canadians who gathered to emphasize the deadline's passing on Friday, and to call attention to the gradual development of a two-tier health system in Canada.

Standing in front of a scrum of reporters, Dr.Bob Wollard, head of family medicine at UBC and member of the Canadian Doctors for Medicare, said that extra and double billing should concern all Canadians.

Dr.Bob Wollard of the Canadian Doctors for Medicare spoke to media in front of the Cambie Surgery Centre. Photo by Beth Hong.

"This is not a trivial issue, there appears to be half a million dollars of public money in play that was double billed," he said. "We have concerns about that as a particular issue and we have concerns about the evolution of a second tier system, one for the wealthy and one for the less wealthy."

Wollard, who has practised medicine for 40 years, said that he has patients who are presented with a tough choice.

"They're being told at the level of the orthopaedic office, that they can either wait an interminable period in the public system or they can pony up 25, 15 000 dollars and have it done right away," he said. "That is illegal in our country and should be illegal in our country."

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