Saskatchewan NDP questions mammogram plan over company’s party donations, lobbying

Sask. NDP is questioning the province's mammogram plan where patients will be sent to a Calgary company that donated to the Sask. party and hired former finance minister to lobby. RJB

Saskatchewan’s Opposition NDP is questioning the province’s plan to send breast cancer patients to a private clinic in Calgary after the company donated to the governing party and hired a former finance minister to lobby on its behalf.

Meara Conway, the NDP ethics critic, demanded a deeper explanation this week for the $2 million Saskatchewan is to pay Clearpoint Health Network for mammograms, given other private providers appear to offer lower rates.

Since 2016, Clearpoint’s subsidiary, Surgical Centres Inc., donated $14,300 to the Saskatchewan Party, public disclosure documents show.

The lobby registry says former Saskatchewan finance minister Kevin Doherty has been lobbying on behalf of the company to promote ways it can reduce the province’s surgical backlog.

In addition to mammograms, the province is using Clearpoint to do knee and hip surgeries at a cost of $6 million.

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“It doesn’t pass the smell test,” Conway said. “I think the Saskatchewan people would have a lot of questions.”

Saskatchewan Health Minister Everett Hindley said Doherty’s lobbying and the company’s donations played no role in the province hiring it.

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Hindley said the government was looking for a quick solution, as the average person waits about 10 weeks to get a mammogram.

“I think this was the one that was immediately identified to us as being a short-term solution that we could turn around fairly quickly by amending the existing contract we had,” he said.

Clearpoint is to offer 1,000 mammograms and biopsies until March 2025. Saskatchewan is to spend $2,000 per scan and provide each patient $1,500 to cover their travel.

But Conway said private providers in other provinces offer more affordable rates.

The Canadian Breast Cancer Network’s website says MedRay Imaging charges between $140 and $360 for one breast mammogram, and $170 to $430 for two.

The website also says The Toronto Centre for Medical Imaging charges $230 for 3D imaging.

Under the public system, the province’s fee schedule says Saskatchewan pays up to $103 for diagnostic mammography. Repeat scans can cost up to $123.

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“It should have never gotten to this point,” Conway said of Saskatchewan having to contract out. “It has been 16 years under the same government. This (health) crisis didn’t sort of present itself overnight.”

Hindley said he doesn’t have a breakdown to show why costs are higher for Clearpoint than the public system.

“If there’s any associated overhead costs, administration, everything that’s affiliated, that would be built into the system already,” he said.

Hindley said he doesn’t know if the province looked at other private providers, noting Ontario is farther from Saskatchewan than Alberta.

The cost breakdown of what Clearpoint charges in administration and procedure fees was redacted in the contract. The company also charges a fee if an appointment is cancelled within less than three days. That amount was also redacted.

Clearpoint has many private facilities across the country. It is owned by Kensington Capital Partners, an independent Canadian investor.

Conway called on the government to stop allowing out-of-province, corporate and union donations to political parties. Saskatchewan has among the laxest laws in the country when it comes to political donations.

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