Patients at North Island hospitals are paying up to $268 a month for inpatient cable TV services, and one local man says it amounts to price gouging.
Mark Walker says the rates are “outrageous” and “have to be changed.”
Officials from Island Health (VIHA) and Telus – which share revenue from the cable service – both downplayed the concerns, noting that it’s an extra amenity and that free cable is available in various other locations other than patients’ rooms, along with wireless Internet.
They also pointed to the costs of installing and maintaining the television sets.
But questions remain about the fairness of those rates.
Walker contacted the Mirror after visiting his elderly aunt in hospital. She’s in her 80s and bedridden but still mentally sharp, said Walker.
When he first visited her in the Campbell River Hospital, she said she couldn’t afford to watch television in her room. And she didn’t have a credit card, which is required for the user-pay service – patients enter their credit card information using a remote control.
Walker opted to pay for the service on her behalf, but said the fees amounted to “gouging.”
“Her only entertainment is the TV in her room,” said Walker.
He said shows like the courtroom drama Perry Mason help her to pass the time.
Cheryl Bloxham, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA), said in an email that “if patients want to watch movies and TV shows, they can select and pay for the desired service by credit card” using a service provided by Telus in their rooms.
One day costs $14, or $15.68 after tax. From there, tax included, a week goes for $82.88, two weeks for $143.36 and 28 days for $268.
That month-long subscription works out to $9.47 per day.
Those rates are non-refundable, even if the patient is discharged early, said Walker.
“I thought about it: How long should I do this? How long is she going to be in here?” he said.
He settled on subscribing for two weeks at a time for his aunt, but called it a “money grab.”
The service, called Optik TV, includes 103 channels, about 100 radio stations, 2,000 music channels and free community access programming called Optik Local, according to a Liz Sauvé, a Telus spokesperson.
She described the cable package as a “specialized Optik TV service” that “offers patients the option to have personal TV service in their hospital room.”
Sauvé added that the “optional upgrade is in addition to the free TV services located in common areas, which offers patients and visitors access to all major TV networks and hospital information for free.”
Revenue generated by the service is shared by Telus and VIHA, she said, adding that the money “supports Telus’ investment to connect and provide the service.”
Sauvé didn’t immediately reply to an email asking how the funds are divided.
Bloxham said she couldn’t confirm how much of the money goes to VIHA.
But she said that funds from cable subscriptions are used for “maintenance, repairs and replacements of the television systems.”
She added that VIHA has replaced two TVs since the two North Island hospitals opened last October, along with $2,000 for remote controls. Altogether, the costs amounted to $5,400.
“When we get money from government to pay for the health care, we’re not going to put that money into replacing TVs,” she said. “That’s why that money is coming out of the cable fees.”
She also said the cost of cable TV isn’t covered by public health insurance and providing “safe and quality health care” is VIHA’s priority.
“We deal with health care, not so much entertainment,” she said.
“We’re focussing on paying for surgeries and paying for people’s health care.”
She also noted that free wireless Internet is available at both hospitals, along with complimentary cable TV in various parts of the facilities.
“We do provide complimentary cable TV in many of our clinical and common areas, including patient waiting areas, some exam rooms, dining areas and pediatric play areas,” she said.
But Walker said he’s not alone in his dissatisfaction with the prices.
He said he overheard people in the hospital’s elevator complaining about the rates. “It’s not just an isolated thing.”
“Certainly a business has to make money,” said Walker. “But to that extent?”