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

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

(Photo/Mary-Jean Coyle)
Community Camera for June 11, 2021

Submit your photos to news@ahobserver.com

Jacqueline Pearce and Jean-Pierre Antonio received the BC Historical Federation Best Article Award on Saturday for their story about translating haiku written in the Tashme internment camp.
Article chronicling haiku in Japanese internment camp near Hope wins award

Tashme Haiku Club’s work was preserved and recently translated, authors write

(Adam Louis/Observer)
PHOTOS: Students leap into action in track events at Kent Elementary

At Kent Elementary, when the sun’s outside, the fun’s outside. The intermediate… Continue reading

Kindergarten kids from Evans elementary school in Chilliwack painted rocks with orange hearts and delivered them to Sto:lo Elders Lodge recently after learning about residential schools. (Laura Bridge photo)
Kindergarten class paints rocks with orange hearts in Chilliwack for local elders

‘Compassion and empathy’ being shown by kids learning about residential schools

Chilliwack potter Cathy Terepocki (left) and Indigenous enhancement teachers Val Tosoff (striped top) and Christine Seymour (fuchsia coat), along with students at Vedder middle school, look at some of the 500-plus pinch pots on Thursday, June 10 made by the kids to honour the 215 children found at Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack students make hundreds of tiny clay pots in honour of 215 Indigenous children

‘I think the healing process has begun,’ says teacher about Vedder middle school project

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

Most Read