Montreal

Quebec health minister spars with radiologists over publicly funded ultrasounds

The head of Quebec's radiologists association is squaring off with Health Minister Gaétan Barrette over the details of a new requirement that private health clinics provide publicly funded ultrasounds.

Specialists welcome move to cover private ultrasounds under medicare, but 'don't trust' negotiations over fees

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette said fees paid by the province for ultrasounds at private clinics don't allow for profit. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The head of Quebec's radiologists association is squaring off with Health Minister Gaétan Barrette over the details of a new requirement that private health clinics provide publicly funded ultrasounds.

As of Dec. 29, ultrasounds performed at private clinics are now covered by Quebec's public health insurance agency.

However, the government and Quebec's radiologists have still not reached an agreement as to how they'll be reimbursed for the exams.

Reports that some clinics were cancelling ultrasound appoints as a result led Barrette to accuse the radiologists of "taking patients hostage" in order to exert pressure on the government as they negotiate.

"It will not work," Barrette told CBC News.

"They're used to making huge profits on each ultrasound exam and now they would still like to make some profit on their fees… and we don't allow profit on publicly funded exams."

Barrette told CBC that the province will pay the clinics' costs plus professional fees.

'A false problem'

Dr. Vincent Oliva, president of the Quebec Radiologists Association, said the concern over cancellations was a "false problem" that Barrette was using as a negotiating tactic.

"If a radiologist sees a patient who has an urgent condition, for sure he's going to do something about it and not just cancel his appointment," Oliva said.

Oliva said the province's radiologists ultimately agree with the move to have ultrasounds covered by the province, but they are wary of going along with the new rules when the details have yet to be finalized.

"If he thinks we're taking patients hostage, he just has to suspend his bylaw so we can reach an agreement — that would be the most sensible thing to do," Oliva said.

"Instead, we're being kept in the dark and a lot of clinics are reluctant to enter into this because we don't trust him."

Oliva said private clinics are prepared to accept reduced profits from ultrasounds, but they also rely on fees from the exams to stay in business.

"We need to find the sweet spot — what the true price is with a minimal margin of profit," he said.

"If these private clinics close, it will be much worse for the patients in Quebec, that's for sure."

With files from Shaun Malley

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