The British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union on Wednesday ended the third and final day of a Supreme Court case to block the outsourcing of its Medical Services Plan database management to a U.S. firm.

Union

lawyers told the court that privatization of the Medical Services Plan (MSP) would violate the Canada Health Act and potentially jeopardize the privacy of patient data. The province has already signed a $324-million with Reston, Virginia-based Maximus Inc., which will deliver its services through two new Canadian subsidiaries, Maximus BC Health Inc. and Maximus BC Health Benefit Operations Inc. The BCGEU has asked for an injunction that would prevent the partnership from moving ahead until the broader issues in the case can be resolved. The Supreme Court had not made a decision at press time.

George Heyman, BCGEU president, said privatizing the system would bring citizen information contained in the database under the U.S. Patriot Act introduced to fight terrorism. That’s why the union doesn’t want to simply wait to see the privatization plan aborted, he said.

“If in fact Maximus has access to the information and is vulnerable, a decision after that point that reversed it would be somewhat moot from the privacy point of view,” he said.

The B.C. Ministry of Health Services did not want to comment on the court case but spokeswoman Sarah Plank said the government was prepared for the outcome. 

“Obviously we must abide by a court ruling. The public would not be affected,” she said. “However, the province will continue to try and improve the service.”

The government has made amendments to provincial privacy legislation to ensure medical information is safe from unauthorized disclosure, including a $500,000 fine for the unauthorized disclosure of personal information. As well, the contract with Maximus contains a number of specific provisions, including a requirement that data storage and access be based solely in Canada with no remote access from outside the country, restrictions on employee use of outbound Web and e-mail access, and limited use of data transfer hardware. 

Heyman, however, said the province has failed to implement recommendations that involve closer partnerships with the federal government.

“The B.C. Privacy Commissioner agreed there was a risk, whether it was (disclosing) the drugs (residents) have been prescribed or information about being treated for mental illness. There’s also financial information linked to files,” he said. “I think the provincial government is putting the best face on their actions and basically stonewalling.”

Plank said the deal with Maximus is focused on introducing improvements to the system, not risk.

“We launched the procurement process more than a year ago basically to end the days when calling MSP meant getting a busy signal,” she said. “It’s been an ongoing issue.”

The contract with Maximus includes penalties if the plan does not go as scheduled, Plank added.

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