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Health Coalition members warn of illegal billing by private health clinics during tour stop in Sarnia-Lambton

Posted: June 15, 2017

By Tyler Kula, Sarnia Observer

Private, for-profit clinics are cutting a second tier into Canada’s public health-care system, a representative with a provincial health-care watchdog group says.

And, in many cases, what they’re doing is illegal, said Peter Boyle, a volunteer with the Ontario Health Coalition.

“If you need money for medical care, under OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan), under the Canadian health-care system, it is totally covered whether you get it at a hospital or a private clinic,” he said.

“If anybody tries to charge you more money, that is against the law.”

But patients are being hit with extra charges at a number of private clinics across the country, he said, noting the coalition is planning to release an in-depth report, two years in the making, on the subject Monday,

Part of what’s in store was included in a Globe and Mail article Saturday, he said, looking at 71 clinics across the country where illegal billing for medical services has been going on unchecked by regulators.

Almost all of the subject clinics – none of which are based in Sarnia – are owned by physicians, writes Kathy Tomlinson, in the Globe report.

“A lot of doctors are good, some of them are not so good,” said Boyle, under the Blue Water Bridge in Point Edward Saturday.

The stop was one of 20 in the coalition’s ‘We Can’t Bear to Lose Medicare’ tour, including a seven-foot stuffed bear designed to turn heads and draw attention to the issue.

“What they do is the private clinics are charging fees that they make people think are necessary,” Boyle said. “They don’t, in a lot of cases, tell them they’re not.”

That includes, for example, he said, charging for measuring a person’s eye for cataract surgery, or upcharging for special, unnecessary lenses.

In some cases clinics are cashing in twice for the same service – billing both the patient and province.

Doctors routinely do it, and refer patients to private clinics where they have a stake, according to the Globe report.

A court case in British Columbia is currently underway in which private clinics are challenging the laws protecting patients from user fees.

“We’re seeing private clinics spring up all over Ontario, certainly not as much perhaps as British Columbia or Saskatchewan are seeing, but it’s against the law,” said Shirley Roebuck, head of the Sarnia-Lambton Health Coalition chapter.

“It’s a violation of the Canada Health Act.”

People in Canada are generally quite proud of publicly funded health care, she said.

“They want it to succeed and I think that’s where the government should be spending some money, to ensure our public health-care system is stable and viable.”

tkula@postmedia.com

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