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Saskatchewan allowing people to pay for MRIs

Dustin DuncanREGINA – Legislation that allows people to pay privately for MRI scans has come into force in Saskatchewan. Health Minister Dustin Duncan (pictured) 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.

According to a report in the Canadian Press, Mayfair Diagnostics and Open Skies MRI Diagnostics, will only supply free, public scans to patients within Regina and surrounding areas. 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.

Patients who want an MRI exam will still need to be referred by a doctor.

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.

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 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.

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 go-ahead for user-pay MRIs in Regina has its merits, but it does raise some issues.

First, critics, including some physicians, have raised concerns that user-pay MRIs offer the wealthy the opportunity to “jump the queue.”

Second, whether rich or poor, patients who pay for scans will effectively pay twice for their healthcare — through their taxes and the MRI fee.

Third, the only two private MRI facilities are in Regina, so if a patient from elsewhere in Saskatchewan pays for a scan, the “free” public scan will go to a Reginan on the wait list.

Fourth, long wait lists suggest a lack of public MRI capacity, but some physicians say too many unnecessary MRI scans are already being performed – the number has doubled in seven years to almost 34,000 a year.

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