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CRA moves to slash ‘excessive’ fees charged by disability tax credit companies

The Canada Revenue Agency is proposing to dramatically slash what it calls “excessive” fees some companies charge to help Canadians apply for the disability tax credit, nearly five years after it was told to do so.

The move, which according to the CRA could put millions of dollars back in the hands of disabled people, is being applauded by some advocates, but panned by companies that last year collected up to $ 25 million in fees.

“The government of Canada decided that measures were needed to protect Canadians living with disabilities and their supporting family members from being charged more than what is considered adequate compensation for the services rendered,” according to a CRA analysis released earlier this month.

More than a million Canadians receive the disability tax credit, which can be worth thousands of dollars and is designed to provide help for people who have mental or physical impairments that are “severe and prolonged.”

Up to 40% in contingency fees

Over the years, businesses have sprouted up to help people apply for the tax credit. They charge anywhere from 15 to 40 per cent in contingency fees and last year collected between $ 9.5 million and $ 25.4 million, according to the CRA.

The proposed restrictions will significantly reduce that take. Companies will only be permitted to charge $ 100 for an application to determine eligibility, another $ 100 to actually apply, and then $ 100 for each year the credit is retroactive.


One of the biggest disability tax credit companies in Canada is National Benefit Authority. It has advertised in Halifax. (Susan Allen/CBC)

There have long been calls for a crackdown. Legislation introduced by the Harper government in 2014 intended to tighten the rules, but it’s only now that federal officials have released draft regulations.

“I think it’s a great change,” said Eastern Passage, N.S., resident Cathy Publicover.

Publicover has several disabilities and initially sought the help of a Toronto company called National Benefit Authority to apply for the tax credit. But after being told the company would charge her 30 per cent to submit the application, she decided to do it herself. She found it easy and simple to complete.

“At that time it would have taken $ 970 from me,” Publicover said, adding it is money she uses to pay for her medication and other health-related bills.

Those who apply for the disability tax credit are required to fill out a small portion of a form with their personal information, while the remainder is completed by the patient’s doctor or nurse practitioner.


Patrick Curran, national executive director of Independent Living Canada, calls fees in the thousands of dollars “unconscionable.” (Submitted by Patrick Curran)

Companies currently charge as much as $ 4,663 to help an adult, and $ 7,383 for an eligible minor, depending on the amount of the disability tax credit and the number of retroactive years, according to the CRA.

Those kinds of fees are “unconscionable,” said Patrick Curran, the national executive director of Independent Living Canada. The organization advocates for the disabled and has 25 offices across the country that help people fill out the disability tax credit (DTC) forms for free.

“Our position has been that there should not be any charge whatsoever for the filing of an application for a DTC,” Curran said.

He welcomes the proposed changes and said he’s fine with setting the fee at $ 100 an application.


Monique Brooks operates a one-person business helping people apply for the disability tax credit. She said the process can take more than a year and she doesn’t get paid if the tax credit is not approved. (Paul Brooks)

But Monique Brooks, who owns and operates Disability Tax Credit Consultant Services in Harrowsmith, Ont., told CBC she was “horrified” when she learned about the plan to replace contingency fees with a $ 100 flat rate per application.

“Some of these businesses have employees and so therefore it’s going to cause job loss,” she said.

One of the biggest companies is National Benefit Authority. It has not replied to a request to comment on this story.

Brooks, however, is a one-person operation.

She charges 20 per cent for helping people access the disability tax credit, although she said she provides free advice in other areas where people may need help. She said the government makes people in her business sound like “we’re vultures, and it makes it sound like we’re taking advantage of the disabled.”

She said while that may be partly true of some companies, people who are denied the tax credit need help reapplying from those who know “the ins and outs of the system.”

She said 20 per cent is reasonable because “that same Canadian without my support might have a 90 per cent chance of being denied and then they would get zero.”


The Canada Revenue Agency said it is working to simplify the disability tax credit application process. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

She said the application process is not as easy as the government makes it sound, and she’s spent two-and-a-half years helping applicants get approval. She notes she does not get paid until the application is approved and receives nothing if it’s rejected.

The executive director of an organization that represents companies like Brooks’s calls the regulations “an unprecedented move.”

Nicola Moorhouse, with the Association of Canadians Disability Benefit Professionals, said in a news release that taxes are complicated and “dealing with CRA can be a nightmare.”

She said the direct result will be unavailability of services to disabled Canadians, near total job loss within the industry and fewer benefits for those who need them most.

“It should be obvious that the intent and effect of the proposed regulations is to wipe out the service-provider business and reduce the availability of the DTC to disabled Canadians.” Moorhouse said.

CRA ‘balancing act’

A CRA spokesperson calls the regulations “an important balancing act.” On the one hand, it wants to protect persons with disabilities, who can be some of Canada’s most vulnerable people, but it also recognizes that some may need help with their tax credit requests and that companies can play a role.

“While we recognize that reaction from various stakeholders will be varied, the CRA believes it has found the right balance,” Dany Morin said.

He added the CRA is also continuing to work to simplify and clarify the disability tax credit application process and expects to make significant progress on this front in the coming months.

Morin said once the consultation period has ended, the CRA will consider the feedback and may revise the proposal. It will then be up to the minister of national revenue to approve it.

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Michael Cohen sues Trump Organization, claiming nearly $2M in unpaid fees

Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer of U.S. President Donald Trump, is suing the Trump Organization, alleging he was not reimbursed for work done on behalf of the company.

In a complaint filed in a New York state court in Manhattan, Cohen said the Trump Organization breached its obligations to indemnify him after it became clear he would co-operate in investigations into his work, including special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian influence in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cohen said the organization has refused to pay any of his legal fees or costs since May 2018, and owed him almost $ 2 million as of Jan. 25.

He said the organization is also responsible for another $ 1.9 million he owes as part of his criminal sentence.

Cohen was sentenced in December to three years in prison after pleading guilty to federal campaign finance violations, including over "hush money" payments to two women who said they had sexual encounters with Trump. The president has denied their claims.

Russia has denied interfering in the 2016 election. Trump has said there was no collusion between his campaign and Moscow, and has labelled the Mueller probe a "witch hunt."

After once bragging that he would "take a bullet" for the president, Cohen met with federal prosecutors in New York and with the office of special counsel Mueller, telling them he had lied to Congress to protect Trump and paid off two women to keep them from speaking out about alleged affairs with Trump.

Cohen told Congress last week that Trump was a racist, a liar and a con man. 

Trump, in turn, has assailed Cohen as a "rat" and a "serial liar."
 

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B.C. to crack down on extra fees billed by health-care providers

The B.C. government is planning to fine doctors who charge extra user fees and reimburse patients who are improperly billed, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Wednesday.

The province will make it an offence to charge extra fees for publicly insured services, and introduce fines of up to $ 10,000 for a first offence and $ 20,000 for a second offence for anyone convicted, Dix told reporters.

“Our public healthcare system is meant to provide high quality healthcare to everyone, based on need, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay,” he said.

The news comes after a Health Canada audit of three private clinics in B.C. Based on that audit, the federal government estimates that $ 15.9 million in extra fees were charged to British Columbians in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

This year, federal health-care funding to B.C. was reduced by the same amount. The Canada Health Act specifically forbids patient payments for “medically necessary” services covered by the public health-care system.

In response, Dix says the province will bring into force the full Medicare Protection Amendment Act, which was passed by the legislature in 2003 but not fully implemented. The full act would have given government the authority to take action against clinics and doctors charging illegal fees.

“We’ve had this system of don’t ask, don’t tell, ever since,” Dix said.

Patients to be reimbursed

Right now, the Medical Services Commission only has the power to audit and ask for court injunctions against providers who are found to have billed improperly.

The health ministry says that when the full act is brought into force in October, patients will not be liable for any extra fees they have been charged.

Practitioners who have charged those extra fees will be required to reimburse them, and if they refuse to do so, the Medical Services Commission will provide the refund.

Apart from fines, doctors and clinics who charge illegally could also be delisted from the Medical Services Plan.

“We are taking strong action today and will be asking the federal government to restore funding to B.C. in the coming year as a result,” Dix said.

He added that the changes will not prevent patients from seeking private treatment for services that aren’t covered under MSP, or end the practice of public funding for procedures provided through private clinics.

Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said she was delighted by the news from B.C., but it was too early to say whether the province would be reimbursed for the funding that was clawed back this year.

“In no way do we want to take money away from provinces, just the opposite, but we certainly want to make sure that the extra billing fees and user fees stop,” she told CBC News.

B.C. has high rate of improper billing

Edith MacHattie, co-chair of the B.C. Health Coalition, welcomed the changes and described them as long overdue.

“We at the B.C. Health Coalition do hear often from patients who have been extra-billed and who are facing real hardships from these for-profit clinics that are profiting off of their illness and their need for treatment,” she told CBC News.

There are six audits of private clinics planned for this year, and three are already underway, according to the province.

Last year, a study from the Ontario Health Coalition found that B.C. had one of the highest rates of improper billing in the country. 

For example, the researchers found that some private B.C. clinics had billed patients between $ 650 and $ 995 for MRI scans and more than $ 8,000 for knee surgery to repair a torn ACL — services that are covered through MSP.

In a few cases, those clinics also asked people for their health cards, suggesting that both MSP and patients were being billed for the same services.

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Trudeau says it's time for Canada to debate decriminalizing fees for surrogate moms

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it’s time for Canadian society to wrestle with the controversial issue of paying women to carry other people’s babies.

Calling paid surrogacy an “extremely important issue” that affects many prospective parents, including same-sex and infertile couples, Trudeau said today he expects the debate will draw extreme opinions and emotions.

The government, he said, wants to listen and show respect for all views to “move forward appropriately.”

“I think this is something we need to be thinking about as a society, and when we see the bill I know we will be having a discussion about rights and responsibilities that we share as a society,” he said. “And we will try to see how we can move forward in a reasonable manner.”

Trudeau was referencing a planned private member’s bill being put forward by Liberal MP Anthony Housefather. The bill, which Housefather plans to table in May, would decriminalize payments for surrogate moms and sperm or egg donors.

Housefather, who chairs of the House of Commons justice committee, said Canada’s current law is out of step with modern families — including same-sex couples, single mothers and women choosing to have children later in life.

He said the ban on fees creates a grey zone which leaves potential surrogates anxious about breaking the law.

Law prohibits payments

Housefather’s bill has the unanimous backing of the Liberal women’s caucus. He said he hopes the government will endorse it, but he’s received no commitment to date.

The Canadian law, which came into force in 2004, prohibits paying a surrogate mother for her services — but does allow reimbursement for certain medical and maternity costs when the surrogate mother is performing the service for altruistic reasons.

Costs that may be covered include maternity clothes, travel for medical appointments, medications and, in some cases, lost work wages.

The issue has been contentious in the past, even within feminist circles. Opponents of paid surrogacy say it amounts to commercializing a woman’s body. Proponents say the ban denies women the right to do what they want with their bodies.

Trudeau acknowledged it won’t be an easy debate.

“This is a very complex situation, but it’s something we will need to study,” he said.

The number of reported surrogates in Canada has increased in recent years, from 285 in 2010 to about 700 last year.

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