Hundreds of thousands of British Columbians do not have a family doctor. Despite the BC NDP working on this issue for the past five years with little success, there is a potential for big-tech to entirely disrupt our universal primary health care system.
I continued the BC Green Caucus line of questioning asking whether the BC NDP government is prepared for and protecting our equitable public health care system from a disruption in the business model by big tech.
If we were to be taking the Premier’s defence on this, then members of this side of the House should never be members on that side of the House, and members on that side of the House should never be on this side of the House, because what I’m about to point out is what one of the Premier’s members said while they were on this side of the House.
An article published in the Vancouver Sun on August 3, 2018 highlighted Telus’ $100 million purchase of Medisys. “The acquisition involves about 30 boutique clinics, which operate under Medisys, Copeman Healthcare and Horizon Occupational Health Solution brands. Some of them charge hefty annual membership fees for affluent families and executives.” Reflecting on Copeman’s business model in his past role as health critic, the current Minister of Health is quoted in a 2007 Tyee article written by Andrew MacLeod saying: “People aren’t paying for those services, and everybody knows it. You’re paying for the right to see a…doctor.”
The Vancouver Sun states: “Copeman Healthcare has four swanky clinics in B.C. and Alberta, catering to well-heeled patients, corporate health programs and business executives.” Telus purchased Medisys because “it’s a profitable entity.” They have a lot of stake as they’ve got billions of dollars developing health records software.
What I want to know is why this NDP Minister of Health is standing on the sideline while a company like Telus, with obvious profit motives, is allowed to entrench a two-tiered primary health business model in British Columbia?
Hon. A. Dix:
What the member has suggested is that the issue that he’s been raising has been around for a long time, which is the provision of non-medically necessary supplementary services, and there is a debate about those services.
In 2018, after I became Minister of Health…. It was 2008, I think, was the proper reference, not 2018. But in 2008, after I became Minister of Health, the cabinet decided, after due consideration, to bring into force an act of the Legislature that had been passed under the previous government and never been brought into force over the previous 15 years. That action that was taken by me as Minister of Health and by the cabinet ensures that the provisions against extra billing have been strengthened in B.C.
With respect to issues raised last week by the member, the Medical Services Commission did take action and worked to ensure that a provider was brought into compliance. If the member believes that Telus Health is not in compliance of the Medicare Protection Act, he should bring that information forward. But for my part, we’ve brought into force a new law. We’ve brought in force repeated actions that support public health care and limit private intervention in public health care. Repeatedly done so.
In this case, we’re asking the Medical Services Commission to review all these issues to make sure that everybody is in compliance. I think that’s the right approach. That’s the approach that protects public health care, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.
Member for Saanich North and the Islands, supplemental.
At the heart of this is the reality that a primary feature of the tech industry, of course, is the disruption of business models. It can happen quickly, and jurisdictions that do not have the proper regulatory framework in place are vulnerable.
Josh Blair, head of Telus Health, said at the time of that Vancouver Sun article: “When you look south of the border, you see American tech giants moving into this space…. So together with Telus and Medisys, our intention is to create a Canadian health tech champion that can be an alternate to the American tech giants.”
In the Vancouver Sun article, Dr. Brian Day, co-owner of the Cambie Surgery Centre, an advocate for private clinics, pointed to the entrance of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan Chase into the American health sector and said: “I expect to see a positive and much-needed disruptive innovation.”
The Minister of Health should not be brushing this off. He spoke to the clear and present danger to our universal, equitable primary health care system in the past.
My question is this. Do corporations like Telus have a place in the NDP’s vision for primary health care delivery in our province?
Hon. A. Dix:
Telus has the same obligation as everyone else, which is to support and to follow the law, which is the Medicare Protection Act. The idea that the member is singling out what is a B.C.-based company as the sole target of this criticism, I think, is incorrect. What we need to protect public health care is investment in public health care, enforcing the laws around public health care, bringing back workers who were wrongly privatized back into the public system.
But it seems to me what we also need is to improve what public health care does for people. That’s why, in B.C., we have 12 MRI machines that are operating 24-7 in the public system, why we’ve increased the number of MRIs, for example — an area where private health was strong — by 47 percent to improve services for people, why we’ve added 54 primary care networks and 26 urgent and primary care centres, why we’ve added surgeries to reduce wait times and why, even during a pandemic, there are fewer people waiting for surgeries than before.
We don’t just need to defend public health care; we need to improve it. And that’s exactly what this government intends to do.