This column first ran in the Winnipeg Sun and is now free to be reprinted.
Folks in Niverville have an idea. For years, people have been driving past the small town to get private MRIs just south of the border. What if people could purchase an MRI in Niverville?
The Town of Niverville is exploring a partnership to open a private clinic where people can purchase MRIs. Some might imagine a world where Manitobans would have a shorter drive to get MRIs and medical technicians could get jobs in Niverville. Others imagine a much different world.
“This new private MRI clinic will introduce a two-tiered system where the rich can buy their way into treatment ahead of the poor, and that is simply not right,” said Darrin Cook, President of the CUPE Local 4270.
Fortunately, we don’t have to rely entirely on imagination. People in Saskatchewan can pay for MRIs. So how’s that working out?
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation checked with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health.
Individuals in Saskatchewan have purchased more than 850 private MRIs since Mar. 31, 2016. For every one of those MRIs, the private clinics are required to provide a free MRI of similar complexity for someone on the public wait list, so more than 850 additional MRIs have been provided at no cost to the public health system.
There’s more. Saskatchewan’s Workers’ Compensation Board and other insurance providers often pay for private MRIs. The two-for-one requirements means they also provide MRIs for someone on the public list. Since Mar. 31, 2016, this has resulted in more than 1,500 additional MRIs being provided for patients from the public wait list.
“A total of 2,378 MRI exams have been completed since March 31, 2016, at no cost to the public system, contributing to improved access to MRI service in southern Saskatchewan,” states the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health. The ministry points out that patient choice is one of many factors impacting wait times and it’s also added capacity to the public system. The results are encouraging. “The wait time for elective MRI services in southern Saskatchewan over the past year has been reduced to approximately 110 days, almost half of what it was over a year ago.”
There are, of course, alternatives to this all-of-the-above approach.
“If we truly want to reduce MRI wait times, we need to invest in public MRI services,” said Cook.
More money is always an option, but let’s look at the issue of public investment in healthcare.
Manitoba spends $7,120 per person on healthcare, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. That’s second highest among the provinces. Saskatchewan spends $6,838 per person. It’s hard to believe that more money could improve the situation when Manitoba is already one of the biggest spenders on healthcare.
And where exactly would more money come from? The province is running an operational deficit of $840 million. The budget estimated interest on the debt will cost Manitobans $911 million, but that was before interest rates ticked up and the province’s credit rating got another downgrade. It’s time for look at solutions other than more money because the province is out of money.
There’s an amazing lack of logic in the opposition to the Niverville proposal. Critics oppose so-called U.S.-style system while Manitoban’s current system is prompting Manitobans to cross the border to get actual U.S. healthcare. Unions representing healthcare workers oppose Niverville’s plan to create jobs for healthcare workers. People calling for more investment in MRIs are telling Niverville not to move forward plan that could provide hundreds of MRIs at no cost to the public system.
Not everyone is opposed to Niverville. The province still has to analyze the idea. But at least one person appreciates the initiative.
“We’ve asked communities to be innovative and to be creative when it comes to health-care delivery,” said Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen when asked about Niverville’s proposal. “I am thankful and supportive of communities that bring forward innovative ideas.”
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