REGINA – Legislation that allows people to pay privately for MRI scans has come into force in Saskatchewan.
Health Minister Dustin Duncan says two private firms have been licensed by the Ministry of Health to provide MRI services that people will pay for out of their own pockets.
“My understanding is that one in the city of Regina is looking to offer their service as of today and the other is still evaluating over the next couple of weeks if, and when, they will be providing the service as well,” Duncan said Tuesday.
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The second company is in Regina too, he said.
Each private facility will set its own price for the service and any patient who chooses to pay will not be eligible for cost coverage or reimbursement.
It doesn’t mean people can get an MRI whenever they want one, because they’ll still need to be referred by a doctor.
A Dec. 4 letter to physicians from the president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association says it opposes the move. An attached briefing note says creating dual access to MRI scans does not reduce surgical wait times. It also suggests it could lead to queue-jumping for surgery because those with a completed scan could
see a specialist sooner.
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Duncan notes that doctors have long been sending patients out of the province for MRIs.
“People are doing this. People are leaving Saskatchewan and getting MRI scans and, in fact, Saskatchewan physicians in some cases are signing off on those requisitions, and as a public system, we don’t get a benefit from it,” he said.
“We’re trying to balance off all of those different priorities.”
The legislation says facilities that do private MRI scans must also provide a second scan at no charge to an individual who is on the public waiting list.
Duncan also said he doesn’t know how many people might pay for the scans because the health system doesn’t track the number of
patients going out of province to pay for MRIs.
“Ten people might do it today. Ten people might do it in the next month. I don’t have a way to know that.”
The government says that as of the end of November there were 6,649 patients waiting for MRI services in Saskatchewan.
The length of the wait depends on the urgency of the situation. Patients in emergency cases have scans done immediately, while non-urgent patients wait an average of 238 days across the province.
The Opposition NDP says the clinics in Regina – Open Skies MRI Diagnostics and Mayfair Diagnostics – are already doing public MRIs under contract with the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region. The party says in an email to media that allowing user-pay MRIs at those facilities “cuts capacity for patients in half.”
The government says both clinics are contractually obligated to provide services to the health region and it will be up to the companies to determine if and when they can schedule patients for private scans.