Patients could consult medical professionals online but the service would cost money. (Sun Life Financial)

Online health care offered by insurance is controversial

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Sun Life Assurance Company is offering packages which would give clients access to the services of medical professionals through live video, telephone or text, but medical services offered by private clinics for a fee are controversial. The insurance company is working with three medical firms to provide the packages at what it says is a significant discount.

Canada has a public health insurance system which guarantees free medical care to everyone. While the Canada Health Act specifically forbids patient payments for “medically necessary” services, there are several private clinics across the country which offer services for extra fees. This means people with money can jump lengthy queues to obtain medical care.

Fees said to ‘interfere with the whole premise’

“[These fees] interfere with the whole premise of Canadian public health care, which is of course that when we need care we should be able to get it, no matter how much we can afford to pay or not,” said Adam Lynes-Ford of the B.C. Health Coalition to CBC News in June 2017. The coalition sponsored a study on private health-care clinics. It and other groups argue that such clinics are a threat to the public system.

CBC reports that a spokesperson for the federal department, Health Canada said allegations of extra billing should be reported to the provincial government, because the federal government has no authority to investigate such matters. While the federal government provides funding for health care across Canada, it is the provinces and territories that administer it.

Long wait times in hospital emergency rooms and hallways are a common complaint in Canada. (CBC)

Long wait times frustrate patients

There are many complaints about the health care system including long wait times in hospital emergency rooms and difficulties in getting or seeing a family doctor. So, quick online consultations would be attractive to many people.

Sun Life is working with the three medical companies to offer new products. Employers could buy access to online medical consultations as part of their employee benefit programs. For a fee, they could sign up for a year or try it on a monthly basis. Individuals could buy a one-time consultation or ongoing coverage. This would allow patients to quickly consult doctors, nurses, mental health and other professionals without seeing them in person.

The extra fees charged for these services would vary greatly and were not provided by the time I posted this.

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