Private MRI services warranted


Saskatchewan's Premier Brad Wall mused recently about a health reform idea that is good for both patients and taxpayers.

In fact, it's an idea that more provinces should pursue.

Specifically, Wall mused on Twitter about the idea of allowing private clinics in Saskatchewan to sell MRI scans to the public just like Alberta currently allows. Thus, if you're a Saskatchewan resident and you need a scan of, say, your shoulder, you could choose to go on the government's waiting list and receive a scan at no cost or choose to pay out of pocket and receive a scan sooner at a private clinic.

No matter how you cut it, giving patients more choice just makes sense. Consider it from a patient's perspective.

If you're a Saskatchewan patient and decide to go on a waiting list for an MRI, there are likely going to be several people ahead of you. In fact, the Fraser Institute reported Sask MRI wait times were eight weeks on average in 2013. But if the government allows private clinics in Saskatchewan to offer the service, some of those people on the waiting list ahead of you will undoubtedly decide to pay out of pocket and drop off the government's waiting list. Thus, you could get bumped up and receive the service faster.

Alternatively, if you were thinking of leaving the province to pay for an MRI scan in Alberta or the United States, Premier Wall's idea would mean you could receive the scan in the comfort of your own province. Thus, it would be cheaper for you as you could probably avoid hotel bills, airplane tickets and other incidentals that come from leaving the province for health care.

From an economic perspective, Wall's idea is long overdue. Every Saskatchewan taxpayer that currently leaves the province and pays for health care in other jurisdictions is actually taking money out of the Sask economy. One can hardly blame them though, if you've got the money and can receive quicker for your pain, why wouldn't you?

The other benefit from allowing private MRIs is the fact that Saskatchewan could attract patients and their cash from other provinces such as Manitoba; a province that doesn't allow private MRIs.

In fact, a Manitoba taxpayer recently told the Canadian Taxpayers Federation about going to the U.S. and paying for an MRI in Minneapolis. His reason for doing so: he was in pain and the wait list was too long in Winnipeg. Suddenly, Saskatchewan would become a convenient location for many other Manitobans.

Obviously critics won't like Premier Wall's idea. They'll fire up the fear-mongering machine and suggest the sky will fall if Wall's idea comes to fruition. After all, Wall's idea takes some power away from the hands of government unions, bureaucrats and ideological dinosaurs, and gives it to patients.

The fact is, Saskatchewan has had private companies performing CT scans and knee surgery for several years now and the sky hasn't fallen. Nor has the sky fallen in the education system where parents can choose to send their kids to public schools or pay for private schools.

Hopefully Premier Wall proceeds with his idea. It'll be good for patients suffering in pain as well as taxpayers.

Colin Craig is the Prairie Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

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