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New Saskatchewan law to allow patients to pay for MRI scans out-of-pocket

05/06/2015 04:56 EDT | Updated 05/06/2016 05:59 EDT
REGINA - Saskatchewan's health minister says proposed legislation aimed at reducing wait times would allow patients to pay out-of-pocket for MRI scans.

Dustin Duncan said Wednesday that the regulations could make MRI scans available 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.

Private clinics would have to develop a business model and Duncan doesn't know how much 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."

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."

The number of patients needing scans has grown to 33,000 a year from about 16,000, he added.

"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.

The recommended wait time for an urgent case is up to a week compared to three months for a non-urgent scan.

Duncan said emergency MRIs happen immediately across the province.

NDP health critic Danielle Chartier said the proposed legislation is problematic because it could result in delayed treatment for those on the public wait list.

"There might be two lines for MRIs, but there's only one line for treatment," she said. "This government needs to build capacity in our public system to ensure your health card gets you medicare, not your credit card."

MRI scans can cost up to $3,000 and introducing a private system is a "slippery slope," Chartier suggested.

"There are people who can't afford private MRIs."

Chartier added that private clinics would be able to do fewer scans and she is concerned the system would poach radiologists and technologists.

Saskatchewan residents currently travel to other provinces or the United States for MRI scans and the new regulations would give patients another option, Duncan said.

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