Lab changes next on Liberals’ list

First up is cutting outpatient testing costs at private labs, some hospitals

HEU is reacting cautiously to provincial government proposals to restructure the delivery of inpatient and outpatient lab and diagnostic services delivered in B.C. hospitals and private lab sites.

The B.C. Liberals’ plan — unveiled in mid-July — includes a number of measures it says will promote better coordination, cut waste by eliminating unnecessary tests, and reduce costs — particularly in outpatient testing. It also calls for a new system-wide patient information system.

In the short term, government efforts to cut costs will focus on outpatient testing though two key measures:

  • transferring Medical Services Plan funding for outpatient testing to the Ministry of Health to create a single funding source; and
  • reducing lab fees for outpatient tests by eight per cent Sept. 1, 2003, and then a further 12 per cent April 1, 2004.
  • In addition, B.C.’s six health authorities must hold a competitive bidding process and put the delivery of all outpatient services out to public tender in 2005.

    Victoria says it will save $70 million from reduced payments for outpatient testing. It’s promised to reinvest those savings to fund the restructuring — including the new information system. A new lab coordinating office, which is expected to consult broadly with stakeholders like HEU, will stickhandle these changes.

    Union assistant secretary-business manager Zorica Bosancic says government initiatives will be monitored closely to deal with concerns of its HEU lab assistants and other support staff who work in public testing sites. She says HEU will continue to advocate for an expanded role for the public system in providing lab services.

    A consultant’s report into lab service delivery in B.C. says costs are rising rapidly in outpatient testing performed primarily by private companies. The report says “profit margins enjoyed by the private sector are considerable.”

    Bosancic says the report also validates previous HEU research that showed considerable cost savings could be achieved by addressing the fee-for-service basis for outpatient testing. Meanwhile, she says that HEU has written to tell health services minister Colin Hansen that the union wants to work closely on the restructuring plan.

    When the changes were outlined, a top executive for B.C. Bio — which along with MDS dominates the private lab market in the province — warned that the move to put outpatient testing to a competitive bidding process will open the door for big U.S. corporations to take over.

    Bosancic says there are some positive conclusions to the government’s study and some workable proposals for change. However, she says more certainty about what the entire lab system will look like at the end of the day would help build trust in confidence in the restructuring process.

    Click here for copies of the government documents outlining the proposed changes: lab document lab letter