To raise awareness of alternatives to single-payer health care as the demand on public hospitals in B.C. and Canada proliferates, Claudia Cornwall has compiled a guide to private health care in B.C. for the readers of BCBusiness.
As waiting lists at public hospitals proliferate, dozens of private clinics have emerged to satisfy the demands of ailing British Columbians seeking prompt care. Typically these clinics bill third-party insurers, such as WCB, or foreign visitors’ private health plans. However, minor procedures deemed to be elective – such as some MRIs and cataract surgeries – can be billed directly to the patient. In some instances, the regional health authorities have contracted work to private clinics to ease Cataract surgery Half of people between 65 and 74experience varying degrees of sight loss due to cataracts. Twenty years ago, corrective surgery required up to two weeks in the hospital. Today, the 25-minute operation requires only local anesthetic and there’s no overnight stay. Go through the public system, and you’ll wait seven to eight weeks. Got cash? You can have it done in a private clinic within a day ortwo for about $1,000. Hip Replacement The most common cause of joint damage requiring hip replacement is osteoarthritis, which appears most often in adults over 45. Mild discomfort when walking or standing progresses to acute pain, even when at rest. When Advil no longer controls the pain, it’s time for a hip replacement. Go through the public system, and you’ll be living with the pain for 20 weeks before surgery. No private clinics in B.C. offer full knee or hip replacements, but if you are covered by WCB, are employed by the RCMP, or are a guest of the prison system, you can travel to Alberta to cut down on your wait time. The privately owned Health Resource Centre in Calgary can schedule a hip replacement within two or three weeks, at a cost of about $20,000. MRI You hurt your knee skiing at Whistler over the weekend, see your family doctor on Monday and she says there might be internal damage; you need an MRI. You have two choices: take her referral to your local hospital, which will bill MSP for the procedure. Your name goes on a list and you wait three to eight months. Or, take your referral to any one off our private clinics in the Lower Mainland, fork over $500, and have the scan done within two or three days. Enthusiasm for the private option diminishes outside urban centres, as Mike Large discovered. His family-owned MRI business performs about 100 scans a month for private clients. “It’s not a gold mine,” he says. “In Vancouver or Calgary, you can always find people who aren’t willing to even wait a week. But in Kelowna, people are willing to wait more.” Pet scan This advanced cancer screening tool is not available through B.C.’s public health insurance system. The privately owned Vancouver PETScan Centre has performed approximately 3,500 scans since it brought the first scanner to B.C. in 2000. Scans are by physician referral only and the patient pays $2,850. The BC Cancer Agency bought its own PET scanner in 2005, and is currently providing PET scans for only select cases (non-small-cell lung cancer and lymphoma). The Cancer Centre’s scans are paid for by the Provincial Health Services Authority, which is funded by the provincial government. Waiting time at the PETScan Centre: less than one week. Waiting time at the Cancer Agency: four weeks (critical) to eight weeks (non-critical). Arthroscopic knee surgery Orthopaedic surgery is in heavy demand at local private clinics because that’s where the longest waits are in public hospitals. The most common operation: arthroscopic surgery to repair a tear in the meniscus, or the shock-absorbing cartilage in the knee. Sign up on the public health-care waiting list and you’ll be favouring your sore knee for about four months before seeing a surgeon. If you’ve got cash, or a private insurer looking after your interests, the Cambie Surgery Centre will see you within days for between $2,200and $3,500.