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Council of Canadians warns more user-pay MRI scans coming by spring 2016

MRICouncil of Canadians health care campaigner Michael Butler has called on Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall to withdraw Bill 179.

In an op-ed published by the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Butler writes, “The last sitting of the legislature before the next Saskatchewan election [on April 4, 2016] wraps up in just a few weeks. Yet Premier Brad Wall wants to push through Bill 179, the MRI Facilities Licensing Act, that essentially opens the door to private, user-pay MRIs in Saskatchewan.”

He adds, “The Health Ministry is holding private, by-invitation-only consultations on the language of the regulations regarding licensing private MRI facilities, but not a public consultation on the legislation itself.”

Butler asserts, “Evidence shows that allowing the wealthy to jump the queue increases public wait times for MRIs. That happened in Alberta, which has the longest wait times in Canada. More fundamentally, it goes against the founding principle of medicare, which stipulates that care should be based on need, not one’s ability to pay.”

In May 2015, the CBC reported, “Health Minister Dustin Duncan [has] introduced legislation that would pave the way for more people to get private scans, if they have the cash. It proposes that patients could pay a private clinic for a magnetic resonance imaging scan if they choose. Duncan said the changes could be in place to allow for MRI scans at private clinics as soon as [the spring of 2016]. For every scan paid for privately, clinics would be required to provide a scan at no charge to a patient on the public wait list. The price of a private MRI will be set by the clinic, and the idea is it will cover the cost of at least two MRIs.”

Butler has previously commented, “What Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall is talking about is queue jumping for the rich and further stepping away from universal, publicly funded health care for the people in Saskatchewan. When you have a two-tiered system with private clinics for the rich, it makes staff shortages even worse as health professionals are poached from the public system. Moreover, with private MRI clinics we have seen that they are located in urban centres (where the wealthiest clients are), removing scarce health care professionals, capacity and funding from rural areas.”

Butler also notes that Bill 179 likely violates the criteria and requirements of the Canada Health Act.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has consistently called on past federal governments to enforce the Canada Health Act to stop the increasing amount of privatization within our public health care system. This federal legislation allows for a dollar-for-dollar withholding of federal transfer payments to provinces that allow user charges or extra-billing to insured persons for insured services.

We call on the Trudeau government to work to ensure Saskatchewan’s compliance with the Act in light of Bill 179.

This past September, the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees organized a 5-city speaking tour in Saskatchewan to highlight the latest threats to public health care in Saskatchewan and provincial legislation that is promoting privatization of the system. On that tour Butler the private MRI issue in his talks in Prince Albert, Yorkton, Battleford, Weyburn and Regina.

For more on our health care campaign, please click here.

Further reading
Council of Canadians opposes user-pay MRIs in Saskatchewan (May 8, 2015 blog)
BC man’s stroke illustrates dangers of for-profit MRI scans, funding cuts to public health care (May 18, 2015 blog)