Calgary medical clinic offering ‘enhanced services’ for annual fee

A clinic in Calgary is under government investigation for allegedly offering preferential health services for a fee. Silvia Naranjo reports.

What qualifies as privatized healthcare?

Many people seem to think another Calgary clinic is cashing in — supposedly offering “enhanced services” for a fee.

Some Calgarians are having flashbacks to this summer, when a clinic in Marda Loop made plans to start charging thousands of dollars worth of fees for better and faster services, including getting in to see a physician quicker.

That clinic ended up backing down after Health Canada threatened to take action, as did the premier.

Now it appears another clinic — this time, in the city’s northwest — is offering what it calls “uninsured” services for a fee.

JW Health, according to it’s website, can provide extended hours, prescription refills without an appointment, an on-site blood lab, same-day appointments, and body scans; this at the cost of nearly $3,000 a year for an adult, and almost $1,000 for a kid.

The clinic came into the spotlight after a post on Reddit where someone said they were looking for a family doctor, and reached out to the clinic.

They then found out that the clinic operates privately and that they had to visit the website for pricing details.

The province is taking a look into this most recent situation.

Health Canada in touch with Alberta

In a statement to CityNews, Health Canada says it is engaging with Alberta to discuss the case.

“Health Canada closely monitors developments in provincial and territorial health insurance systems to ensure the requirements of the Canada Health Act (CHA) are upheld,” it said. “No Canadian should be paying out of pocket for medically necessary services. The Canada Health Act guarantees that all Canadians have access to medically necessary services based on need and not the ability to pay.

“Primary health clinics that charge patients annual membership fees exist in a number of provinces. Health Canada has raised this issue as a concern under the CHA with provinces and asked them to investigate,” Health Canada continued.

“Findings of these investigations have generally indicated that these clinics provide members with an array of uninsured services (e.g., life coaching and nutritional services). Mandatory fees to access, or receive preferential access to, insured services are contrary to the CHA.”

Expert weighs in

Lorian Hardcastle, a professor and expert on health law, says this situation is nothing new, and that some clinic usually try to walk a fine line — and get away with it.

However, she says this time might be different.

I’m of the view that when what is being offered is a family doctor visit but with extended hours or more rapidly available [services], that does cross that line because that’s not an uninsured service,” Hardcastle explained.

Privatization has been around for a long time, and she adds, it’s reflective of a greater issue.

“There’s a connection between wealth and health,” Hardcastle said. “So, if doctors switch to this kind of model, those who are most unable to pay that yearly fee are often going to be those who need access to health services the most.

“Whenever the public system is struggling, we do tend to see these pockets of privatization open up and it should really be a warning sign to the government that they need to ensure that patients have reasonable access to healthcare services.”

Province says audit will find non-compliant clinics

The province said in a statement it has a public health guarantee and is “fully committed” to Alberta’s publicly-funded health care system.

Further, it says the provincial health department monitors billing activities of clinics to make sure they align with the rules.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the Minister has directed her department to further investigate clinics that have a membership component to their services,” the province added.

It says a review of eight Alberta clinics is in the early stages, and the results of these investigations will be used by the health department to develop an audit plan.

Audits of all remaining clinics will begin in the new year, according to the province, and if non-compliance is found, Alberta says it will “take appropriate action.”

CityNews has reached out to the medical clinic for comment on the situation.

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