Quebec radiology spat spills over into Ontario

A fight between Quebec's radiologists and the province's health minister over reimbursement of ultrasound fees is leading some patients in Quebec to cross the border to get tests done.

Quebec and province's radiologists at odds over reimbursement of ultrasound fees

Ultrasounds from private clinics in Quebec are now covered by the province's public health insurance agency. But how much the clinics get paid hasn't been determined.

A fight between Quebec's radiologists and the province's health minister is spilling over into Ontario as patients in Quebec cross the border to get ultrasounds.

After a change in policy made last month, fees for ultrasounds performed in Quebec's private imaging clinics are now covered under RAMQ, Quebec's public health insurance agency.

Martin Lacasse said he has cancelled all ultrasound appointments at his private imaging clinic in Gatineau. (Stu Mills/CBC)
But the government and the province's radiologists still haven't reached an agreement as to how they'll be reimbursed for the exams.

Some private clinics in Gatineau have closed, forcing patients to seek the service in Ontario.

Martin Lacasse, owner of Ecosphère Image in Gatineau, closed the business and cancelled about 50 ultrasounds, saying he's not willing to wait and see how much RAMQ will reimburse him.

"I find that very stupid of the minister to announce something without having any details to announce to the private clinics," said Lacasse.

"We're not a public enterprise, we're private, so therefore I have some risk. When I take risks, I assess them and make the best decision on what I have in my hand.

"We are entrepreneurs, and we have to know how much we are going to receive."

We are entrepreneurs, and we have to know how much we are going to receive.- Martin Lacasse, owner of Ecosphere Image

Change took effect Dec. 29

Last July, Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette announced private clinic ultrasounds would be covered, starting in December.

Barrette said there were 110,000 Quebecers waiting for an ultrasound and that only blood tests were in higher demand.

On Dec. 29, it became possible to walk into a private imaging studio like Clinique d'echographie for ultrasounds and walk out without a bill.

Clinique d'echographie de l'Outaouais owner Sylvie Grenier said she is waiting for certainty around reimbursement for radiology fees. (Stu Mills/CBC)
But two weeks into the new regime, clinic owner Sylvie Grenier said she still doesn't know how much the province will reimburse her.

"Tell us how much we're going to be paid, tell us when, and we'll be happy," said Grenier.

Gatineau clinics not seeing more clients

Grenier said it appears word of the free private ultrasound rule change hasn't reached patients yet.

Though one of her recent patients said she'd called 15 different clinics before successfully booking an appointment, she said she hasn't yet seen a surge in business.

"We thought we'd have a boom, but we don't," she said.

She said so far she is covering the portion of the imaging cost normally paid for by the reimbursement.

"We can't continue on forever. There's a limit in our budget," said Grenier.

Montfort sees increase in requests

Montfort hospital's clinical director Carolyn Welch said in a written statement that "during the past few weeks, clerks of medical imaging department of Hôpital Montfort [have seen] an increase of requests for ultrasounds for Quebec patients."

Earlier this month, reports that clinics were cancelling ultrasound appoints as a result of the reimbursement led Barrette to accuse Quebec's radiologists association of "taking patients hostage" in order to exert pressure on the government as they negotiate.

"It will not work," Barrette told CBC News at the time.

"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."