Federal health minister tells Saskatchewan to stop private MRIs

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Federal health minister tells Saskatchewan to stop private MRIs
WATCH ABOVE: Buy one private MRI and it pays for a public one at the same time. That's the two-for-one MRI system the government implemented earlier this year. Now the federal health minister, Jane Philpott, is criticizing the licensing act, calling for an end to the practice. Christa Dao reports. – Nov 28, 2016

The federal health minister is asking the Saskatchewan government to “put an end” to the province’s private-pay MRI services.

Jane Philpott has written to Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter, telling him Saskatchewan should stop “the current practice of encouraging private payment for diagnostic services.”

In the letter, Philpott said the province should focus on ensuring all residents have access to MRIs and CT scans as quickly as possible, regardless of ability, or willingness to pay.

On Monday in Ottawa, Philpott said it’s a violation of the Canada Health Act and under that legislation, there may be clawbacks.

“It’s not our desire to use monetary penalties. We do have the ability to do that under legislation of the Canada Health Act. It’s our desire to indicate to them that this is deemed to be a violation of the act,” Philpott said.

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Reiter in response said it was an innovative way to deliver health care — calling it a success. He said the practice has taken 1,100 patients off the public health care waitlist.

“What we’ve done is alleviate the pressure in the public system at no cost to taxpayers,” Reiter said.

Philpott disagreed. She said health care is based on necessary care, and not based on who has the funds to get to the front of the line.

“They should line up on who has the highest medical priority, and not in accordance with who has the most money.”

In 2015, the Saskatchewan government passed legislation allowing people to pay for MRIs.

The private clinic then has to provide a second scan to a patient on the public wait list at no charge after a scan is given to someone who chooses to pay for an MRI.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan law allowing people to privately pay for MRIs kicks in

The Saskatchewan government has promised a similar model for CT scans.

Philpott said she was concerned the legislation goes against the Canada Health Act, where access to care should be based on medical need.

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“While the “one for one” model you have enacted is unique, it still allows wealthier patients to jump the queue, both for initial diagnostic services and for any follow-up care that may be required within the public system,” Philpott said in the letter.

Philpott’s letter to Reiter

Philpott also said under the Canada Health Act, provinces must pay for all medically necessary services. If a province charges for medically necessary services, like diagnostic services, they can be deducted “dollar-for-dollar” from Canada Health Transfer Payments.

Reiter has written back to Philpott, saying the government has provided more than 2,200 MRI scans and saved nearly $1 million. Reiter said over 1,100 patients have been taking off the public waiting list.

He added Saskatchewan will continue to allow private MRIs and expand the program to CT scans.

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Reiter’s letter to Philpott

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