For Dr. Cathryn Zeglinski, it's the plight of transient workers that's driving her to voice outrage over Vancouver Coastal Health's recent increases in X-ray fees.
There is an assumption that people from outside Canada have travel insurance when they come to play in the mountains around Whistler, the doctor told Pique Newsmagazine this week. But about 50 per cent of her patients either have let their insurance expire or they never bought it in the first place because they are working for $9 to $10 an hour and don't have extra funds.
In August this year, Vancouver Coastal Health increased the rates for X-rays to out-of-province patients across their jurisdiction. The rates went from $99-$122 to $187-$504. Since then, Zeglinski said she is constantly seeing people choose not to get X-rays.
"As far as physicians go, our role is to help people," she said. "This whole idea that a monetary interest is putting a barrier between our ability to help our patients is something that is against the covenant of being a physician."
Unlike many other communities in British Columbia, the Sea to Sky corridor doesn't have a private X-ray clinic and in Whistler the only place where people can get X-rays is at the public facility in the Whistler Health Care Centre.
Zeglinski said she believes VCH's monopoly in the area is causing the X-ray rate inflation.
These new rates are out-of-whack with the rest of the province, she said. For example, out-of-province patients pay between $66 and $140 for X-rays on Vancouver Island, administered by Vancouver Island Health Authority, and roughly $66-$85 in areas of the Lower Mainland governed by Fraser Health Authority.
Moreover, Zeglinski pointed out that private facilities in the Lower Mainland only charge between $75 and $125 for X-rays.
"Why are they trying to gouge us?" she asked.
"I had a patient who fractured his jaw. He was sucker punched at the bar, and he was leaving the next day. All he kept asking was, 'How much is this going to cost me?'"
Dr. Laurin Shaw at the Whistler Medical Clinic echoed Zeglinski's concerns.
"All the physicians are concerned about this," said Shaw. "We are seeing more patients now that are declining X-rays."
"We strongly encourage them to obviously follow good medical advice, and our concern is that people that opt not to have these X-rays may have bad orthopedic outcomes and other serious outcomes down the road."
Shaw said the X-ray fees have been a common topic of discussions at Whistler physicians' monthly medical advisory meetings.