No plans to end private MRIs, says Sask. health minister in response to federal concerns

Canada's health minister has "significant concerns" with Saskatchewan's buy one, get one policy for diagnostic scans such as MRIs.

Jim Reiter says private scans take people off wait list

Saskatchewan's health ministry says 1,100 patients have been removed from the public wait list for MRIs due to the province's private pay program. (John Rieti/CBC)

Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter says the province has no plans to change its buy one, get one policy for diagnostic scans after Canada's health minister expressed "significant concerns" about the program. 

Federal health minister Jane Philpott has written to Reiter telling him she would like Saskatchewan to "put an end" to encouraging private payment for medical scans.

Instead, she says the government should ensure everyone has access to MRIs and CT scans as quickly as possible.

Philpott notes that the Canada Health Act requires provinces to pay for all medically necessary services. She says the cost of any private scans could be deducted "dollar-for-dollar" from any federal transfer payments. 

Read Philpott's letter here:

The provincial government began allowing people to pay for an MRI privately last year. In return, the clinic must offer another scan to someone on the public waiting list.

It has promised to implement a similar program for CT scans.

We've alleviated pressure in the public system,- Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter

Minister Reiter told reporters at the legislature on Monday he was surprised and disappointed by Philpott's letter.

He said the province was trying to "innovate" in response to declining federal contributions. 

"It's frustrating. At the same time they're telling us to be innovative, they're trying to rein us back," he said. 

Although Reiter said the province was open to discussion with the federal government, he said there were no plans to change the current system. 

"We've alleviated pressure in the public system at no cost to taxpayers so we think it's the right thing to do and we plan on continuing with it," he said.

Reiter wrote a letter back to Philpott, telling her the province has saved a million dollars with its buy one, get one program. It says 1,100 patients have been taken off the public waiting list.

Philpott told reporters in Ottawa on Monday that was not a good reason to continue the program. 

"So, you know what they've proved by that? The fact that they brought their waiting list under control is that they have the capacity to deliver the care, but those people already paid for that care through their tax," she said.

"They shouldn't have to pay again."

Reiter said on Monday he expected further discussions with the federal health ministry to take place in the near future.

He said the province "fully intends" to continue expanding its 2-for-1 program to CT scans. 

Read Minister Reiter's letter here.