Lisa Hsieh reviews analysis worksheets at BC Biomedical Laboratories' complex in Surrey.

B.C. questions medical test firm takeover

Higher fees, less patient access among concerns raised by health minister

The planned buyout of B.C.’s second biggest medical lab company by its larger rival has raised questions over the implications of a near-monopoly in the medical testing field.

LifeLabs on Tuesday unveiled plans to buy Surrey-headquartered BC Biomedical Laboratories for an undisclosed price.

BC Biomedical has nearly 800 employees, 500 of them in Surrey, and runs 45 labs across the Lower Mainland that handle 32,000 tests daily.

Toronto-based LifeLabs has 80 service centres in B.C. and does 44,000 tests per day.

B.C. Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said she’s notified the federal Competition Bureau that the province wants to closely examine the potential impacts of the deal.

“We’re interested because it would mean that one private lab company would have about 95 per cent of the private lab business,” she said.

A key concern is whether lab fees paid by government could go up under a single dominant provider, she said.

In 2011-12, LifeLabs billed the Medical Services Plan $125 million, while BC Biomedical billed nearly $80 million.

While the two firms have said there are no plans to lay off staff, MacDiarmid is also concerned the two sets of testing centres may be consolidated, reducing access for patients.

“Right now patients in British Columbia have very good access – probably quite a bit better than some of the other provinces.”

MacDiarmid said B.C. isn’t yet taking a position for or against the proposed takeover with federal regulators.

The two firms handle the vast majority of publicly funded medical tests not done in hospitals.

NDP health critic Mike Farnworth also wants the deal closely scrutinized.

“I would not want to end up in a situation where we’re on the short end of the stick – in terms of pricing and ability to negotiate deals and agreements,” he said.

B.C. Medical Association president Dr. Shelley Ross said a price reform initiative to try to reduce lab testing fee costs for government should not be affected by the merger.

“We’ve been very happy with the performance of both companies over the years,” Ross said. “We have no reason to think it’s going to change.”

The deal is expected to close later this spring, subject to regulatory approval.

LifeLabs president and CEO Sue Paish said in a release the operations must become more effective and efficient in light of rising demand, limited funding and a need to continue reinvesting in new technology.

“We are fully aligned in our commitment to quality and continuous improvement in patient services in B.C. going forward,” added BC Biomedical CEO Doug Buchanan.

BC Bio began as a partnership of pathologists founded nearly 55 years ago by Dr. Cam Coady and is now a major source of new biotechnology jobs in the Lower Mainland.

In a Black Press interview last year, Buchanan estimated the firm is seeing growth of five per cent a year in patient visits and seven to eight per cent in test volumes.

The growing and aging population of the Lower Mainland is driving demand, while scientific advances have allowed lab firms to steadily offer new tests.

Just Posted

Suspects charged after police incident by golf course

Mission and Maple Ridge RCMP combined forces to arrest two men

UPDATE: Tsunami warning cancelled for coastal British Columbia

Warning issued following 7.9 earthquake off Kodiak, AK

Mission RCMP recover 22 stolen vehicles and several firearms

Charges are still pending after police search two separate properties

UPDATE: Fuel truck hits train in Port Coquitlam, causing massive fire

CP Rail reporting no injuries, driver of truck is safe.

Fraser Health asking taxpayers for millions more in health care capital funding

Health authority wants Fraser Valley taxpayers to triple annual contribution to $5.75 million

VIDEO & SLIDESHOW: Vancouver Motorcycle Show 2018

Highlights from the annual show at Tradex in Abbotsford

Man faces 48 charges in string of random Toronto shootings

The string of unprovoked shootings began Jan.9, say police

‘Shape of Water’ producer, Christopher Plummer among Canadian Oscar nominees

Guillermo del Toro film about merman romance earns 13 nominations

5 to start your day

Tsunami warning activated in B.C. overnight, fuel truck hits train in Port Coquitlam and more

Canada, TPP agrees to revised deal without the United States

Canada and the remaining members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership have agreed to a revised trade agreement

Tsunami warnings 101: Canada

Here are some things to know about tsunami alerts in Canada and how they work

Rogers Media cuts ties with Vice Canada

Rogers Media and Vice Canada are ending their three-year-old partnership, pulling Viceland TV channel off the air

Snowfall warnings for mountain passes

Lots of snow expected to fall today.

Most Read