Saskatchewan to allow more private MRI scans for paying customers

More private MRI scans could soon be coming to Saskatchewan.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan introduces legislation Wednesday

Saskatchewan has seven MRI machines in its public health care system. There are also two private MRIs. (CBC)

More private MRI scans could soon be coming to Saskatchewan.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan introduced legislation Wednesday 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 next spring.

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.

Private clinics would have to develop a business model to fit that requirement, and Duncan said he doesn't know how much private scans would cost.

"What we want to see is whether or not this concept of two-for-one ... can demonstrate that a business case actually could support this type of alternative arrangement," he said.

The Workers' Compensation Board and the CFL Saskatchewan Roughriders currently pay for MRI scans privately and work under the "two-for-one" model.

Duncan said between 4,000 and 5,000 people are waiting for MRIs in Saskatchewan.

"Our wait times still are longer than our recommended waits," he said. "As our demand has grown, our capacity as a province has grown ... but we still have waits."

In Regina, the wait for an urgent MRI scan averages 24 days. A non-urgent scan can take more than seven months. Saskatoon's wait times are longer.

There are already a relatively small number of MRI scans done by private companies. Saskatchewan currently has two private MRI companies and seven scanners in the public health care system.

Duncan noted that the government will ensure the public scans are done promptly.

"The regulation and the framework there will be the ability for us to pull a licence," he said. "There will be the ability for us to levy a financial penalty which will be very, I would say, onerous for the company."

The NDP opposition raised questions about the proposal and how it could lead to preferential access for some.

"I think this is a very slippery slope," the NDP's Danielle Chartier said. "Everyone in Saskatchewan, regardless of ability to pay, should have access to timely MRIs when they need them."

POLL: What do you think about the proposed expansion of private MRI scans?

With files from The Canadian Press


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