Private clinic delays opening

By Doris Wang

The arrival of the controversial Copeman Healthcare Centre, Canada’s first user-fee based primary health-care clinic, is delayed indefinitely, according to its founder. Originally planned to open downtown in the summer of 2006, the health centre will not open until at least 2009.

Don Copeman says it is unlikely that Ottawa will see a facility in the near future, unless they find a location with enough space to accommodate residents of the city. The downtown core is no longer an option, Copeman said.

“We discovered that our needs are far greater and more specialized than originally thought,” Copeman says.

Copeman Healthcare is based in Vancouver. It has clinics in Toronto and will expand to Calgary next spring.

The health centre offers services in physical and mental health as well as corporate and occupational health. The clinic has been criticized for being elitist and styled after the American system.

For $2,300 per year, patients receive a variety of health services and preventative treatment. Copeman says all physician services are covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan; only the non-insured services will be charged.

Steven Lewis, a health consultant for Access Consulting, criticizes Copeman for allowing its employees and patients to benefit in both the private and public sectors of the health care system.

“They continue to allow physicians and patients to be reimbursed for the medically necessary services provided, and allow doctors to practice in both the Copeman clinics and in the public system,” Lewis says.

Lewis also says he doesn’t object to Copeman establishing a clinic as long as all payments are private and the doctors are not permitted to bill the public plan.

Ontario has warned the clinic that it could be fined $25,000 under the new medicare bill, Bill 8, for charging patients for provincially insured health services. Patients could be fined $10,000.

Copeman does not believe that his firm is violating the bill.

“We simply combine insured and non-insured services under one roof and under one co-ordinated medical record for optimal results,” he says. “This is simply better health care.”

British Columbia has also threatened to close the clinic, which has forced Copeman to withdraw the admission fee that was originally in place and drop the buy-in cost to $1,200. The annual membership fee is still in place.

Lewis says it is a violation of the Canada Health Act if patients are charged when accessing medically necessary services from any clinic. The federal government could withhold transfer payments to the province in the total amount collected in annual fees by the clinic’s patients, he says.

Copeman says they do not violate the act because it was not intended that Canadians get unlimited care, but rather universal access to doctors and hospitals to prevent financial loss in the event of illness or injury.

The federal Liberal health critic, Robert Thibault, says he opposes any clinic charging patients for services they can receive in the public health care system, but it will be up to the province to decide whether they will bring charges against these clinics or not.