Impacts not as dramatic as Vancouver, but business has changed
While some physiotherapy practices in Vancouver have seen business drop by as much as 70 per cent since the provincial government changed funding to the medical services plan on Jan. 1, Whistler practices are still doing about the same amount of business say owners.
"In the three months after the changes, we were down between 18 and 20 per cent. We knew it was going to happen, but we were quite buffered by the tourism business. If there were spaces open that werent being used by locals, tourists filled up the spaces. By July our numbers were pretty much up to par with last year," said Susie Mortensen, a co-owner of Whistler Physiotherapy in the Marketplace and Creekside, and of Advanced Sport Therapy in Sundial Place.
According to Mortensen, there was some confusion after the announcement as to who was covered and by how much. That included people who were covered by the Workers Compensation Board, ICBC, and had extended coverage.
"People didnt really know what the rules were, they didnt know if they had coverage or if they had premium assistance through their employer. Since then people have investigated more and are realizing that physio isnt as expensive as they thought."
As of Jan. 1, the provincial MSP reduced funding for physiotherapy, chiropractic care, massage therapy, naturopathy and eye exams to cut costs. For low-income earners, below the $20,000 a year line, they cut down the number of physiotherapy, chiropractor and massage therapies covered from 12 of each to 10 of all these therapies combined.
For patients who have extended medical coverage, the fee for a visit increased from between $20 and $30 on average per visit to between $40 and $50. Most of that can be reclaimed from an extended medical coverage provider, but some companies will only cover costs up to a predetermined limit.
In July, the Physiotherapy Association of B.C. slammed the delisting of these services, claming that practices were being hurt financially, some by as much as 70 per cent, and that patients are being hurt because they cant afford to take care of their injuries.
The association also said that the delisting may be costing the provincial government more money as people are going to doctors and emergency rooms with problems they would have taken to physiotherapists in the past. In some cases, patients are being prescribed medication to alleviate the symptoms of their injuries and are not receiving therapy to ensure that the injuries do not reoccur.
According to Marilyn Hellier, Mortensens partner, Whistler locals and visitors are typically more health conscious and therefore more willing to pay for treatments.