Telus Health will change health service after extra-billing allegation

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Telus’s LifePlus program, which charges patients thousands of years, will no longer offer physicians’ services to new patients

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Telus Health has made changes to its subscription-based health service in order to reach a settlement with BC’s Medical Services Commission, which had allegations of illegal extra-billing.

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Telus’s LifePlus program, a fee-based model that charges patients thousands a year, will no longer offer physicians’ services to new patients, said Health Minister Adrian Dix. However, people already enrolled in the program will get to keep their family doctors to maintain “continuity of care,” Dix said.

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The LifePlus program will no longer offer publicly funded, medically necessary services. Those will instead be offered through Telus’s virtual walk-in clinics, MyCare, which are covered by the Medical Services Commission.

“This is how we act to protect health care services in BC” Dix said at a news conference in Victoria on Wednesday.

The settlement means the commission will withdraw its petition to the BC Supreme Court alleging the company’s LifePlus services violated the Medicare Protection Act by allowing patients to jump the queue to access a family doctor. The commission applied for an injunction against the service in December.

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Telus Health and the commission had been negotiating out of court.

Juggy Sihota, Telus Health’s chief growth officer, said in a statement Wednesday the company reached an agreement with the commission following a “highly collaborative, transparent and thoughtful process.”

Telus Health agreed to modify “some of the program’s operational processes over time to ensure a clearer delineation between insured and uninsured care delivery, while maintaining continuity of care for its clients,” Sihota said.

“In a challenging and evolving health environment, Telus Health is committed to continuing to be a collaborative partner in providing innovative health solutions to people in British Columbia,” she said.

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Complaints about Telus’s LifePlus program and other private fee-based services pushed Dix in February 2022 to ask the commission — governed by a body that includes doctors, and government and public representatives — to review the practices to ensure they are not breaking BC laws by allowing patients who pay a fee to jump the queue.

Mark Winston at his home in Vancouver, June 1, 2022. Winston, a professor and senior fellow at Simon Fraser University's Morris J. Wosk Center for Dialogue, said he received a letter from his family doctor, Dr.  Geoffrey Edwards, notifying him that the general practitioner was moving to Telus Health.
Mark Winston at his home in Vancouver, June 1, 2022. Winston, a professor and senior fellow at Simon Fraser University’s Morris J. Wosk Center for Dialogue, said he received a letter from his family doctor, Dr. Geoffrey Edwards, notifying him that the general practitioner was moving to Telus Health. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNGs

Several British Columbians, including Mark Winston, a 72-year-old Vancouver resident, reported receiving letters from their family doctor that said the doctor would be closing their practice and moving full-time to Telus Health.

Winston was told if he wanted to continue seeing his doctor, he’d have to pay $4,650 for the first year and $3,600 annually after that to register in Telus Health’s LifePlus program.

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Winston told Postmedia News he’s pleased with the changes announced Wednesday.

“I think it upholds the idea of ​​public health care which is equal access for everyone and that you can’t pay to jump the queue,” he said. “You have to commend the government for responding to keep the integrity of the medical system intact.”

After Dix announced the commission review last year, Telus maintained its LifePlus service does not charge for medically insured services but offers personalized “preventive health care and wellness” such as stress tests and checkups, assessments from dietitians, kinesiologists and occupational therapists. The LifePlus service is often a perk for employees, such as top executives or lawyers, paid by their employer.

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About 4,900 patients are enrolled in the LifePlus program which is served by 29 full-time physicians in BC

BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said it’s concerning it took the government more than a year to crack down on Telus’s LifePlus program which she said amounted to a paywall, where “people who could pay thousands of dollars a year could get access to a family doctor, (which) is the opposite of what a public health care system should be.”

The case is a clear example, Furstenau said, that “for profit private companies in BC are finding a very wide open back door into our health care system.”

The commission filed a similar request for injunction against Vancouver-based Harrison Healthcare which offers a similar subscription-based service. Dix said that case is continuing.

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