Health Ministry officials have refused to clarify whether or not Saskatchewan’s private MRI experiment will continue past April, in violation of the Canada Health Act’s restrictions around for-profit healthcare. In response, NDP Leader Ryan Meili is standing in defense of universal medicare by calling on the Minister of Health to commit that Saskatchewan will abide by the Canada Health Act.

“The Sask. Party’s failed experiment with American-style, two-tier healthcare has done nothing but let people down,” said NDP Leader Ryan Meili. “The province has had two years to come into compliance with the Canada Health Act’s protections for our universal healthcare system, but last week the Health Minister couldn’t say whether or not he would. More people are waiting longer for MRIs so this government can let their wealthy friends jump the queue, and now they’re putting federal health transfers at risk.”

Between August 2018 and June 2019, the number of people waiting for an MRI in Saskatchewan jumped from 6,071 to 10,018 – a 65 per cent increase. Additionally, only 27 percent of Saskatchewan people received their scans within the Ministry’s targeted time frame. As the numbers continued to rise, the Sask. Party stopped updating the figures, with the last report coming in June 2019.

The province is risking millions of dollars in federal health transfers by continuing to let private clinics bill patients directly beyond April 2020. Similar experiments with American-style healthcare in British Columbia cost that province $32 million in federal health transfers in 2018-2019.

Other provinces have developed strategies to reduce wait times that didn’t include letting the wealthy pay to jump the queue. In 2018, in efforts to address growing wait times, the British Columbia government introduced the B.C. Surgical and Diagnostic Strategy and began running 10 of the province’s 33 MRI machines 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They also bought two privately owned MRI clinics. In the first year, efforts to fully utilize existing provincial MRI infrastructure had a significant impact on wait times.  

“The Sask. Party’s failed experiment of queue jumping is obviously not the answer for getting people’s MRIs delivered in a timely manner,” said NDP Health Critic Vicki Mowat. “Meanwhile more and more people are waiting longer as the Sask. Party waffles on a decision to comply with the federal MRI rules. This poor leadership is failing Saskatchewan people.”