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Maximus Inc., the private firm hired to handle the administration of the Medical Services Plan (MSP) in British Columbia, has been fined three times in the last three months for failing to meet performance targets. The giant U.S.-based corporation’s Canadian division was contracted to manage B.C.’s MSP and PharmaCare over the next 10 years at a cost of $324 million. The contract took effect April 1, 2005.

Maximus’ president, Richard Mason, resigned Aug. 16 after only four months on the job. The Canadian head of operations, Brian Pollock, has replaced Mason.

The Maximus contract has been touted by the provincial government as the cornerstone of its privatization plans. B.C. civil service workers had previously administered the MSP and PharmaCare.

The deal has been criticized by B.C. Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis for exposing B.C. residents to the U.S. Patriot Act. The act gives American agencies like the FBI access to personal information held by U.S. companies, even if those companies operate abroad.

Maximus has been slow to actually provide services to the public in B.C. Telephone calls handled by Maximus have been plagued with busy signals, long waits on hold and automated services that don’t function. The Maximus contract stipulated a three-minute average wait time on the phone for the public. The average wait time for callers in July was 15 minutes. The public has been reassured that more staff is being hired and wait times will come down. The contract also requires Maximus to process new MSP applications within 20 days, 99 per cent of the time. This stipulation hasn’t been met, either.