B.C. Medical Services Watchdog Looks Into Telus Health LifePlus Program [Update]

Image: Telus; Reception at the TELUS Health Care Centre located on Nelson Street in Vancouver, B.C.

According to the Vancouver Sun, British Columbia’s Medical Services Commission has launched a probe into the private, fee-based services offered by Telus Health to determine if they allow patients to jump the queue, which would be in violation of the Canada Health Act.

Patients can use the Telus Health MyCare app, previously known as Babylon by Telus Health, for virtual doctor’s visits, and the company will bill the B.C. Medical Services Plan.

However, a Telus Health LifePlus plan is a subscription service that promises enhanced and personalized care with “head to toe” checkups, “an in-depth review of lifestyle factors and medical history,” and access to specialists, such as physiotherapists and dietitians, at traditional brick-and-mortar care centers. The service can allow for 24/7 access to a doctor or expedited medical tests.

Concerned that the practice was creating a two-tiered medical system, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix in February asked the Medial Services Commission to look into Telus Health “to confirm they are not allowing queue jumping for patients who pay a fee, which is prohibited by Canadian laws.”

“In fact, people contacted me … expressing concern about that,” Dix said during a debate on his ministry’s budget in May. “We raised that issue and took action on that issue.”

Sonya Lockyer, vice president of Telus Health Care Centres and Pharmacy, said in a statement that the company “fully supports and is committed to publicly funded healthcare as the foundation of our healthcare system in Canada.”

Lockyer noted that Telus Health Care Centres do not charge for primary care services, adding that they “focus primarily on employer-based health and wellness services that are not covered by MSP.”

When Vancouver resident Mark Winston’s family doctor closed down his clinic and moved to Telus Health, the 72-year-old had two choices: find a different doctor, or pay $4,650 for the first year and $3,600 annually after that for Telus Health’s LifePlus plan.

“As a citizen of British Columbia I was horrified that I was being asked to pay thousands of dollars a year for what should be free to all British Columbians,” said Winston. “It’s not right.”

The B.C Medical Services Commission has contacted Telus and other private health companies pursuant to the inquiry. Telus has provided a submission, and the Commission will present its findings to Dix. The Health Minister said he wants to see the conclusion of the review within the month.

Other privacy concerns related to Telus Health in the past, include its mobile app which was previously investigated by Alberta’s privacy commissioner in 2020. The review found that the app was ignoring privacy laws.

Telus Health on Tuesday updated its MyCare app for iOS and Android, bringing what it said are “a few changes for the better.”

Update June 3, 2022: Following publication, Telus Health reached out to iPhone in Canada to clarify that the company is currently not under investigation.

“We received a request for information from B.C.’s Medical Services Commission to which we responded close to three months ago and have yet to receive a formal response,” a Telus spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

“Our services are not creating a two-tiered health system,” the spokesperson added. “The [LifePlus] fees are to cover the costs of non-MSP covered health services.”