FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Addressing wait times? Pay per use MRIs a step in the wrong direction
Saskatoon, SK -- May 7, 2015
Despite staunch opposition from the electorate when he proposed the idea last year, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall took the first step to parallel private care yesterday, introducing a bill to bring private MRIs to the province. The decision to introduce parallel, privately purchased imaging signifies a significant departure from universal, publicly-funded health care in Saskatchewan. Historically, the introduction of pay-per-use health care services has led to increased wait times for the majority of patients.
Canadian Doctors for Medicare is disappointed that Premier Wall and Health Minister Dustin Duncan did not heed the warning that Alberta’s failed experiment with private imaging offers. After introducing pay-per-use imaging to address wait times, the Government of Alberta moved away from the policy at great cost. Alberta was forced to repay patients for medically-necessary MRI scans that were in contravention of the Canada Health Act, and moved virtually all MRI and CT services back into the public system. Alberta has since built public MRI capacity and cracked down on the practice of extra-billing. By introducing pay-per-use imaging in Saskatchewan, Wall and Duncan are setting the citizens of their province up for a similar costly challenges and prolonged waits.
“Premier Wall took to Twitter last fall to ask his electorate if pay-per-use imaging was a good idea to pursue. We were hopeful that, having been presented with the irrefutable evidence showing that pay-per-use imaging exacerbates patient wait times, Premier Wall and Health Minister Duncan would reject this proposal,” said Dr. Ryan Meili, Vice-Chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare. “Yesterday’s announcement is upsetting, but not as upsetting as knowing that Saskatchewan residents are the ones who will experience the consequences of this short-sighted decision.”
Parallel pay-per-use systems increase public wait times by draining staff and resources out of the public system. In addition to increasing public wait times, pay-per-use MRIs deepen the inequality between urban and rural access to health services. At a time when calls to improve rural access are growing, the introduction of private imaging in Saskatchewan will further concentrate health services in urban areas. Nationwide research on private diagnostics in 2008 and 2014 showed that, without exception, private MRI and CT clinics are located only in the largest cities in each province. People in smaller communities, rural areas, and even medium-sized towns would have to travel significant distances to receive the 'benefits' of private care.
“There are better solutions to wait times, and they involve strengthening Medicare, not undermining it,” said Dr. Meili. “Premier Wall and Health Minister Duncan have an obligation to ensure that all Saskatchewan residents have access to timely, quality health care -- not just those residents who can afford to pay for priority service.”
For media inquiries, please contact:
Katie Raso, Communication and Outreach Officer
Canadian Doctors for Medicare