For-profit ultrasounds draw fire from Manitoba Opposition

A Winnipeg-based clinic planning to offer echocardiograms (heart ultrasounds) for $650 has prompted the Opposition NDP to write to federal Health Minister Ginette Petispas Taylor. The NDP say the clinic's offer of private testing amounts to profiteering in Canada's health-care system.

NDP write to federal health minister about Prota Clinic

Prota Clinic owner Dr. Dimitrios Balageorge says 'jumping the queue is not what we are doing here.' (CBC)

The Opposition NDP says a private clinic's move to offer echocardiograms (heart ultrasounds) for $650 "is about creating a VIP health system for the wealthy."

The NDP have written to federal Health Minister Ginette Petispas Taylor, calling for Health Canada to investigate whether the Canada Health Act is being violated by the Prota Clinic and raise the issue with the Manitoba government.

The letter, from NDP Leader Wab Kinew and health critic Andrew Swan, says the clinic's offer of private testing amounts to "profiteering" in Canada's health-care system. 

A statement from a Health Canada spokesperson in late December said heart ultrasounds or echocardiograms are "medically necessary diagnostic service" and "should be covered by provincial and territorial plans."

It also said Health Canada doesn't have the authority to investigate the practices of Prota Clinic, although it planned to "raise this issue with the Manitoba Ministry of Health in the coming weeks."

Prota clinic has received a go-ahead from the Manitoba government to provide the service.

A provincial spokesperson said a 1993 Health Services Insurance Act regulation states these diagnostic imaging tests are specifically excluded from coverage unless provided in a hospital, meaning these services can be offered in a private facility.

Progressive Conservative Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen reacted to the NDP's letter asking "why would the NDP want Manitobans to be second class citizens in their own country?"

Manitoba's NDP says a private clinic's move to offer echocardiograms (heart ultrasounds) for a fee is unfair and wants Health Canada to investigate if it violates the Canada Health Act. CBC's Sean Kavanagh has the details. 2:06

Goertzen says diagnostic tests offered by Prota are also available across western Canada in private clinics.

"Last time I checked, B.C. was part of Canada. Alberta, I was there recently, was still part of Canada. Saskatchewan is still part of Canada. They are all under the Canada Health Care Act. Some of them have offered these procedures for years; some for decades. We are all under the same Act," Goertzen told reporters.

Goertzen says he hasn't heard from the federal government about the issue.

He says not offering those services privately would create a "two-tier system" between Manitoba and other provinces.

Dr. Dimitrios Balageorge says the wait-list for elective heart ultrasound offers the opportunity for the private sector to offer the service to those willing to pay. (CBC)

Prota Clinic owner Dr. Dimitrios Balageorge said every elective test conducted at Prota frees up a space for a patient in the public system.

The NDP's letter to the federal health minister argues the tests are "medical services that should be made available to everyone, free of charge, through the public health system."

NDP leader Wab Kinew says the government of Manitoba and Ottawa should stop the spread of private clinics offering services for a fee that should be available to all citizens for free.

"In the best possible world both would be standing up to ensure that health care in this province is what the people want it to be, which is strong, universally available and paid for by the public," Kinew told reporters Wednesday.

More than 4,000 Manitobans are on the list for heart ultrasounds and the average wait is 39 weeks in Winnipeg, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority officials say.

Balageorge said he is also open to offering for-profit MRI scans at his clinic, but he will wait to see where the government "goes with MRIs" before proceeding further.

'Manitobans do not accept a system where ... the treatments you can get are determined by the size of your bank account,' NDP Leader Wab Kinew says. (CBC News)

There is a planned for-profit magnetic resonance imaging clinic in Niverville.

The private company, Niverville Heritage Holdings, is partnering with the town and Niverville Heritage Centre to build it.

The proposal has the support of Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen but has been flagged by Health Canada, though its spokesperson has not said whether the federal government would stop the clinic from opening.

"Manitobans expect health care to be available to everyone, rich and poor alike, and we expect the provincial and federal governments to do their part to keep these services high quality and public," the NDP letter to the federal health minister says.

Kinew says the NDP would be open to exploring the possibility of private clinics providing diagnostic testing that was paid for entirely by the government to reduce wait times.

Goertzen remarked that was a departure from a stance taken by previous NDP governments.

About the Author

Sean Kavanagh

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Sean has had a chance to live in some of Canada's other beautiful places (Whistler, B.C., and Lake of the Woods, Ont.) as well as in Europe and the United States. In more than a decade of reporting, Sean has covered some of the seminal events in Manitoba, from floods to elections, including a stint as the civic affairs reporter responsible for city hall.