Saskatchewan slammed over policy allowing private MRI queue-jumping

Federal Health Minister Philpott calls it ‘bad policy,’ while Saskatchewan health minister calls it ‘innovative’

“The foundation of our healthcare 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,” said Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott in Ottawa.

She made the comment as she told Saskatchewan health authorities to stop allowing private MRI scans or risk losing healthcare funding, according to a report by the Hamilton Spectator. The province’s legislation, introduced a year ago, allows clinics to do private MRIs as long as they do a second scan at no charge for a patient on the public wait list.

“We will fundamentally uphold [the Canada Health Act] and we see that these aberrations are bad policy and they're actually bad medicine, too,” said Philpott. “Decisions on who gets an MRI should be done on the basis of who needs one for medically necessary purposes.”

Private MRI scans in Saskatchewan are not elective; they still require a doctor’s referral. The provincial government has expanded the legislation to cover CT scans, although the change has not yet come into force. Saskatchewan says that British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick all have private MRI and CT clinics as well.

Earlier this month, Philpott sent a letter criticizing the policy to her counterpart in Saskatchewan; a spokesperson for her refused to confirm whether similar letters were sent to other provinces with private MRI clinics.

“If they require an MRI or a CT scan for medically necessary reasons, they should not have to pay twice,” Philpott said on Parliament Hill, noting that people’s taxes pay for public health services. She added that if a province charges for medically necessary services, Ottawa can cut healthcare funding. “It's not our desire to use monetary penalties unless absolutely necessary,” she told reporters.

In a written response, Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter defended the practice. He said the policy was innovative: it has led to 2,200 MRI scans, with 1,100 patients being removed from the wait list for an MRI, “all of which have been provided at no cost to the taxpayer.”

“It's frustrating,” Reiter said. “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.”

As for the current practice involving private MRIs and plans to expand it to CT scans, he said that Saskatchewan will stay the course for now. “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.”

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