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Saskatchewan passes Bill 179, the MRI Facilities Licensing Act

Dustin DuncanThe government of Premier Brad Wall has passed Bill 179, legislation that allows people to pay privately for their MRIs in Saskatchewan.

CKOM reports, “On Wednesday [Nov. 4] the provincial government passed legislation that will allow people to pay privately for the scans. Under the new law, for every scan someone pays for, private clinics will have to scan a person on the public waiting-list at no charge. The province said the two-for-one system will boost MRI capacity without costing taxpayers.”

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.”

Council of Canadians health care campaigner Michael Butler has commented, “This essentially opens the door to private, user-pay MRIs in Saskatchewan.”

Butler highlights, “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.”

He adds, “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 has also noted that Bill 179 likely violates the criteria and requirements of the Canada Health Act. 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.

There has been no public comment from Trudeau’s new health minister Jane Philpott on the passage of Bill 179 yet.

This past September, the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees organized a 5-city speaking tour in Saskatchewan to build opposition to Bill 179 and warn about other threats to public health care in Saskatchewan.

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

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

Photo: Saskatchewan health minister Dustin Duncan.