It is something that thousands of people in the city of Ottawa need but don’t have, access to regular medical care. While a new clinic in the south end is offering just that, along with fast service and no wait times, it comes with a yearly membership fee.
The South Keys Health Center, located at Bank Street and Hunt Club Road, is set to open next week and clinic officials say thousands of potential members are already on the waiting list, ready to pay $400 per person a year for access.
“It’s called rapid access and it’s perfectly legal,” clinical director Osman Nur says. “Nurse practitioners are the ones seeing you. They can do prescriptions, they can do a lot of health information, they can send you to a specialist.”
While there will be doctors at the clinic practising family medicine, those who pay the membership fee will not have access to their services.
Under provincial health laws, it is illegal for doctors to charge a fee for services that are covered by OHIP, but nurse practitioners do not fall under this purview. Nur says with the clinic about to open, their clinic is filling a gap in the medical system due to a lack of family doctors.
“We have about 10,000 people on the wait list,” Nur says. “This is nurse-led, not medical doctors. You call us and you see us right away.”
The clinic also offers other services such as a pharmacy, chiropractic, physio and massage therapies, which are not always covered by OHIP.
“We’re seeing examples of kind of a combination clinics, where certain services are clearly not insured and outside but they are being combined with professionals and doctors and nurse practitioners that are provided covered care for insured and covered services. But if they are physically in the same space, even housed in the same clinic, I think this raises very serious concerns about conflicts of interests,” says Kevin Skerrett, with the Ottawa Health Coalition.
“It’s a source of real concern for people who advocate for our health system. We have seen with delisting of insured services, with experimentation, with more and more private clinics that are straddling the line between public health care and services that are not provided and people are seizing on this opportunity to bend the rules, if not break the rules and there are rules. There are strict legal perimeters that say you can’t be charging patients for insured health services in this country and in this province.”
Skerrett says the provincial government must provide more funding to adequately support the need for more family doctors in order to prevent a tiered, American-style medical system from emerging.
CTV News Ottawa reached out to Ontario’s Ministry of Health about the clinic. In a statement, a spokesperson for the Minister of Health suggested the ministry may investigate and that it reviews all possible violations that come to its attention and ensure that all OHIP-insured patients who are charged for an insured service are reimbursed in full.
“We will not tolerate any clinic charging for services,” the spokesperson said. “While at this time, services delivered by nurse practitioners who are not part of a nurse practitioner led clinic, are not covered by OHIP, we are taking steps to review this and shut down bad actors taking advantage of patients.
“It is a violation of the Commitment to the Future of Medicare Act (CFMA) to charge an individual for an OHIP insured service or a component of an insured service. If a patient feels that they have been charged for an OHIP-insured service, they can contact the CFMA program by telephone at 1-888-662-6613 or by email at [email protected] to open a review.”
On Friday, interim Liberal leader John Fraser called on Health Minister Sylvia Jones to investigate the South Keys Health Center.
“It is deeply concerning that families in Ottawa South are having to pay for access to primary care services in our community,” Fraser said in a letter to Jones.
“The primary foundation for our publicly funded health care system is equal access to all. It is not based on your ability to pay. Access to primary care services should be through your OHIP card and not your credit card.”