Ottawa slams Saskatchewan over private MRIs that let 'people jump the queue'
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REGINA — Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott says Saskatchewan needs to stop allowing people who can pay for private MRI scans to jump the queue or risk losing health-care funding.
Saskatchewan's legislation — which allows private MRIs as long as the clinic does a second scan at no charge for a patient on the public wait list — is "bad policy" and "bad medicine," Philpott said. It also violates the Canada Health Act, she said.
"The foundation of our health-care system in Canada ... allows Canadians to know that if they become ill, that they should not have to worry about whether they can pay for it," she said Monday in Ottawa.
"We will fundamentally uphold that act and we see that these aberrations are bad policy and they're actually bad medicine, too. Decisions on who gets an MRI should be done on the basis of who needs one for medically necessary purposes."
Saskatchewan brought in legislation a year ago to allow private MRIs, which still require a doctor's referral. The government has since passed legislation expanding it to include CT scans. That legislation has not yet come into force.
Saskatchewan says it's not the only jurisdiction with private MRIs. It says British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick all have private MRI and CT clinics.
Philpott sent a letter early this month to her counterpart in Saskatchewan criticizing the policy. She said it "allows wealthier patients to jump the queue, both for initial diagnostic services and for any followup care that may be required within the public system." Her spokesperson wouldn't confirm whether other provinces with private MRI clinics received similar letters.
People pay for health care through their taxes, Philpott said on Parliament Hill.
"If they require an MRI or a CT scan for medically necessary reasons, they should not have to pay twice."
If a province charges for medically necessary services, Ottawa can cut health-care funding, she said.
"It's not our desire to use monetary penalties unless absolutely necessary," Philpott told reporters. "We do obviously have the ability to do that."
In a written response Monday, Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter defended the practice and said the province has no intention of stopping. He called the policy innovative, adding it has led to 2,200 MRI scans, "all of which have been provided at no cost to the taxpayer."
At the same time, he said 1,100 people have been taken off the wait list for an MRI.
"It's frustrating," Reiter said at the legislature. "At the same time they're telling us to be innovative, they're trying to rein us back when we are trying to be innovative."
Saskatchewan will continue to allow for private MRI scans and intends to expand the policy of "2-for-1" diagnostics to CT services, he said.
"Certainly, we're always open to discussion but, in the meantime, we think we're doing the right thing for the citizens of Saskatchewan and we intend to continue."
— By Chinta Puxley in Edmonton
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