Saskatoon

Feds give Sask. 1 year to make case for private MRIs

The federal government has given Saskatchewan one year to make its case that its private MRI policy conforms with the Canada Health Act.

Agreement puts on hold dispute over buy-1, get-1 policy

Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter says the government will use the next year to make its case that the private MRI policy conforms to the Canada Health Act. (CBC News)

The federal government has given Saskatchewan one year to make its case that its private MRI policy conforms with the Canada Health Act.

The "understanding" was announced Tuesday afternoon, when the provincial government reached a health-care deal for increases in home care and mental health.

"They won't take any action for the next year in order to allow for dialogue, for discussion, between our ministry officials," Health Minister Jim Reiter said.

"It gives us an opportunity to sort of lay out our case why we think this is good for the public system. I'm hopeful that will lead to a mutual agreement."

What constitutes proof?: Health care expert

Introduced in 2015, the policy allows people to pay for an MRI privately. In return, the clinic must offer another scan to someone on the public waiting list.

Saskatoon health care consultant Steven Lewis said the government should prove the policy had not allowed "queue-jumping" to take place.

He said that could hurt the public system by allowing people who pay for an MRI to get their diagnosis earlier, and therefore be placed on a waiting list before those in the public system.

"Demonstrating that queue-jumping has not in fact taken place because of private MRI services, that would be a very good test of whether or not the public system has been harmed," he said.

MRI policy dispute

In November last year, Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott wrote to Jim Reiter saying the province should put an end to encouraging private payment for medical scans.

She said the Canada Health Act required provinces to pay for all medically necessary services, adding that the cost of any private scans could be deducted "dollar-for-dollar" from federal transfer payments. 

But Reiter said there were no plans to change the policy,  saying the province was trying to "innovate" in response to declining federal contributions. 

Speaking to reporters after the agreement Tuesday, he said the provincial government would use the next year to prove that its policy conforms with the Canada Health Act. 

Policy should not exist: NDP

NDP health critic Danielle Chartier said the government should not have introduced the policy in the first place.

She was pleased the issue would not lead to any federal funding losses at this time.

"I'm glad to hear we won't be losing that money at the moment and hopefully we can figure this out," she said.

now