The commission overseeing British Columbia’s public Medical Services Plan (MSP) has applied for an injunction against Harrison Healthcare for breaching the Medicare Protection Act.
Documents filed by the Medical Services Commission (MSC) in B.C. Supreme Court claim Harrison Healthcare’s bundled client program fees constitute extra billing in contravention of section 17 of the Act.
According to Harrison Healthcare’s website, its “Premier” program for adults cost $5,500 to join in the first year, dropping to $4,500 per year after. The “Foundations” program for teens and young adults costs $1,600 per year, while the “Harrison Kids” program charges $675 per year per child, assuming the individuals are associated with a Premier client.
The website states: “Fees for programs are strictly for the uninsured components of care.”
But the petition cites other claims made by the company, including “…expert physician care with specialized health professionals…”; “…complete health service…”; “…unlimited appointments with your Harrison team which includes your personal physician and/or nurse practitioner…” ; “…and rapid access to specialists…”
It says a review conducted by the commission determined that a “reasonable person” would believe that patients paying for the programs were obtaining “preferential or priority access to MSP insured services, including access to a family physician.”
In an email, Harrison Healthcare founder and chairman Don Copeman called news of the injunction application “very unexpected.” He said the company’s model of care was extensively audited by the MSC and found to be compliant.
“We are completely confident that we are complying with all aspects of health legislation in B.C. and welcome the opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings,” said Copeman.
The injunction application against Harrison Healthcare is similar to one filed two months ago against Telus Health’s fee-based program called LifePlus, which also claimed to be for uninsured medical services only, like dietitians and kinesiologists.
In a statement, Minister of Health Adrian Dix said access to necessary medical care should not be based on someone’s ability to pay.
“That is why we introduced provisions to the act in 2018 that included new protections for patients to prevent extra billing, clarified rules around extra billing for medical practitioners and established consequences for those who break the rules,” said Dix.
“We will allow the legal process to proceed as it should. In the meantime, this government will continue to strongly defend our public health-care system.”
According to the petition, Harrison Healthcare promises doctors applying for employment a patient roster size of less than 400. A typical family physician in British Columbia has a roster of approximately 1,250 patients.
It’s estimated close to a million British Columbians do not have a family doctor. On Feb. 1, the province rolled out a new payment model for family doctors aimed at retaining and increasing the number of physicians in family practice.
Harrison Healthcare operates offices in Vancouver and Calgary, with eight more locations scheduled to open in the next three years, according to its website.