NDP blasts Sask. Party plan for two-tier MRI

Opposition Leader Cam Broten used Thursday’s question period in the legislature to blast the government’s scheme to allow some people to jump the line and pay for their MRIs, instead of fixing the system for everyone.

The bill to change Saskatchewan to a two-tier, partly-for-profit system was tabled by the government Wednesday afternoon. Broten said he doesn’t support making families pay for their MRI, or making people wait longer if they can’t afford to pay.

“Saskatchewan’s MRI wait times are too long for everyone. But, instead of fixing them for everyone, the Sask. Party’s plan is to just let some people pay to jump to the front of the line,” said Broten. “It’s not common sense, and evidence from other provinces shows it’s likely to backfire by making the system worse for everyone.”

As a result of moving to a two-tier MRI system in Alberta, that province experiences outrageous wait times. Half of patients get their scan within 80 days, with nearly everyone else waiting as much as 247 days. Meanwhile, Saskatchewan patients typically wait 28 days with nearly everyone getting their scan within 88, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Broten said Saskatchewan’s wait times absolutely need to improve – but the two-tier Alberta experience shows that makes things worse. 

Broten also points out that two-tier diagnostics will increase wait times for surgeries for most people.

“You can create two lines for MRIs, but there’s still only one line for surgery,” said Broten. “People who can’t afford to pay for their MRI – many seniors and young families included – will wait longer for surgery while anyone who paid leapfrogs ahead on the surgery list.”

Broten said Saskatchewan families already have to cope with health care debt as a result of paying the highest ambulance fees in the country. The government took thousands of middle-class seniors off the drug plan that caps prescription prices in March. With cuts, shortages and staffing problems throughout health care, more and more families are having to turn to extra nursing care paid out-of-pocket.

“Parents anxious about their little one or a spouse concerned for their partner will face the tough decision to rack up credit card debt or take out a loan in order to pay for that MRI,” said Broten. “I want a province in which you hand over your Saskatchewan health card when you need care – not your credit card. The Sask. Party proposal is to charge people in a desperate situation.”

Broten said the first priority should be adding capacity within the single-payer system so everyone can have an MRI scan, for free, as quickly as they need it.