For nearly seven years, Saskatchewan residents have had the option to buy their way to the top of the MRI waiting list. Patients shelled out an estimated $750,000 in 2020. Now, Ottawa is withholding that amount from health transfer payments to the province.
Saskatchewan isn’t backing away and will continue to allow residents to purchase MRI services at private clinics, according to Paul Merriman, minister of health.
“The short answer is no, we won’t be changing this policy because it has done 15,000 scans that have been payed for by Saskatchewan people,” he said during question period on Monday.
“We want to continue to do that but we also have to leverage every option that we have on the table right now for our health care system,” he said.
Thousands of patients have purchased an MRI in Saskatchewan since 2016 under a system that also requires the private clinic to match that with a free MRI for someone on the public waiting list. Ottawa believes this erodes equal treatment for all under Medicare.
“It is critical that access to medically necessary services, whether provided in person or virtually remain a based on medical need and free of charge,” said Jean-Yves Duclos, federal minister of health.
Saskatchewan is not alone. Ottawa is withholding the value of privately purchased MRIs and other diagnostic procedures from seven provinces, including $42 million from Quebec, $23 million from BC and $14 million from Alberta.
In the legislature, the NDP Opposition challenged the government to comply with the Canada Health Act.
“Simple question to the premier,” said NDP leader Carla Beck during question period. “Will he scrap his failed American style private pay healthcare?”
Speaking to reporters after question period, NDP MLA Vicki Mowat said they’ve seem the system of private pay criticised from the beginning.
“It’s a failed experiment, its time to scrap that experiment and look at what other solutions we can and should be taking to make sure that people have access to the diagnostics they need when they need them,” she said.
The provincial government sees merit in its policy.
“The federal government should not have done this. They’re taking tools off the table, Mr. Speaker, for us to be able to address the pressures,” said Merriman.
Ottawa is removing any incentive for provinces to allow residents to purchase their own MRIs. Saskatchewan is willing to pay the penalty on principle.