NDP push to reform Saskatchewan health care by ending private MRIs

Opposition Leader Ryan Meili made a pre-campaign promise on Thursday to reform Saskatchewan’s health care in order to “protect the province from privatization.”

Should the Saskatchewan NDP form government in October, the party would craft the Saskatchewan Medicare Protection Act which would end the province’s private MRI system.

Meili said the bill would be modeled after a similar act in British Columbia that protects universal health care.

“As a family doctor, I ask my patients how they’re feeling, not how they’re paying,” said Meili. “But under the Saskatchewan Party, people are being asked to pay for the care they need.”

Read more: B.C. Supreme Court rules against private healthcare in landmark case

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In 2016, the Saskatchewan government implemented a one-for-one system that requires private operators to provide a free scan to someone on the public waitlist every time someone jumps the queue by paying for an MRI.

Premier Scott Moe told reporters Wednesday the model was adopted because the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Workers Compensation Board could access privatized scans, but the average citizen could not.

“That didn’t seem fair or logical,” Health Minister Jim Reiter previously told Global News.

It’s a model that the Saskatchewan Party government stands by as it took 1,500 names off the public waitlist between April and December of last year.

But Ricki Steffen, who is on a one-year waiting list for an MRI, says the model doesn’t work for her.

Read more: Federally-imposed deadline approaching for Saskatchewan to stop private MRIs

Steffen, who has degenerative joint and disc disease, was told by two doctors she would have to pay for an MRI to access surgery sooner.

“The issue is I have three areas of my spine that need imaging which would cost me $3,000,” Steffen said, who is living a sedentary life because of the pain.

“Even if I had $3,000 — which I don’t — I wouldn’t pay because I don’t think it’s ethical.’

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And the federal government agrees.

The Canadian Health Act states jurisdictions across Canada will have to provide free MRIs as a way to protect Canadians from paying out of pocket for medicare, which currently goes against Saskatchewan legislation.

In 2016, the former federal health minister, Jane Philpott, warned the Saskatchewan government to “put an end” to the province’s private-pay MRI system.

Philpott said health care is based on necessary care and not based on who has the funds to get to the front of the line.

Read more: Saskatchewan’s private MRI system not meeting provincial requirement, auditor says

Saskatchewan’s health minister previously stated federal transfer dollars could be at risk starting in 2022 if the province doesn’t re-examine its current funding model for MRIs.

In March, health minister Reiter said he sent a letter to his federal counterpart asking her to discuss the matter. As of Wednesday, the Ministry of Health still had not received a response back.

In the meantime, the NDP continues to push against privatization.

“What this (model) means is if I can pay and Ricki can’t and we have the same condition, I get to go early and get the surgery that is publicly paid for,” Meili said. “I get there first became I have more money. It’s just wrong.”

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