Medical practitioners in British Columbia should be aware that amendments to the province's Medicare Protection Act ("Act") are pending. These changes are designed to prohibit the private charging or solicitation of fees for health care services available in the public health care system if the fees exceed the rates prescribed by the Medical Services Commission. Additionally, the amendments will make violators of the Act subject to fines of up to $20,000, and require that excess fees collected by a medical practitioner be reimbursed to the Medical Services Commission, or the payor directly.

Amendments to British Columbia’s Medicare Protection Act (the “Act”) will come into force on October 1, 2018. These amendments are designed to prohibit medical practitioners from privately charging or soliciting fees for health services or benefits under the Act which exceed the rates prescribed by British Columbia’s Medical Services Commission for the service or benefit in the public health system.

These amendments are contained in the Medicare Protection Amendment Act, 2003 (“Bill 92”). Bill 92 was initially passed by the provincial legislature during 2003, however, the majority of Bill 92’s amendments were not brought into force until now.

The provincial Government has announced by way of an Order In Council that, effective October 1, 2018, many of Bill 92’s amendments will come into force.

Among other things, these amendments will:

  • Prohibit service providers from charging or soliciting fees which, in total, exceed amounts that would be payable under the Act, for health services or benefits otherwise available through the Medical Services Program. This will include charging or soliciting fees for materials, consultations, procedures, use of an office or clinical space, priority of scheduling, or any other matter relating to the rendering of a service or benefit that is available through the public Medical Service Program;
  • Invalidate any private agreements to pay fees which exceed the rates prescribed by the Medical Services Commission, and require any extra fees collected be refunded;
  • Enable persons to assign their right of refund to the Medical Services Commission which may collect the refund debt through Court proceedings, or deduct the debt from any fees owed by the Medical Services Commission to the medical practitioner;
  • Provide additional powers to the Medical Services Commission to audit billing practices of medical practitioners; and
  • Make violations of provisions of the Act relating to billing practices an offence, punishable by fines of up to $10,000 for a first offence and $20,000 for subsequent offences.

Effective April 1, 2019, similar amendments will be brought into force which are designed to prevent diagnostic facilities in British Columbia from privately charging or soliciting fees for health services or benefits available in the public health care system which exceed what would be otherwise payable under the Act.