Sask. health minister 'deeply disappointed' by Ottawa's clawback of $750K in transfers over patient fees
Saskatchewan's health minister says he is "deeply disappointed" by Ottawa's decision to claw back nearly $750,000 in health transfers, after patients were charged for medically necessary diagnostic imaging services.
Paul Merriman said Friday private diagnostic imaging services have been available in Saskatchewan since 2016, and the province has been calling for meetings with the federal government on the subject for more than six years.
"To date, there has been a complete unwillingness on the part of the federal government to approach the issue with an open mind," Merriman said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced the Liberal government would be making $82.5 million in health transfer deductions from eight provinces related to patient charges levied during 2020-21 for what Ottawa says were "medically necessary services that should be accessible to patients at no cost."
"There should be no fees for medically necessary health-care services, wherever people may live in this country," Duclos said at a news conference in Ottawa.
A total of $742,447 is being deducted from Saskatchewan based on a federal estimate of fees charged to Saskatchewan residents for services like MRI and CT scans in 2020-21.
The clawback is a small fraction of the $1.5 billion the federal government is sending to Saskatchewan through the Canada Health Transfer in 2023-24.
More than half of the $82 million in deductions announced Friday is coming from Quebec.
Under the Canada Health Act, provinces are prohibited from charging "insured persons" for medically necessary services.
The decision to do so is not acceptable and will not be tolerated, Duclos said.
Sask. policy gives patients options: Merriman
The deductions can be reversed if provinces change their approach and ensure individuals are not forced to pay fees for medically necessary care.
Duclos used British Columbia — which received a $15-million reimbursement, rather than a deduction — as an example for the eight provinces to follow.
Merriman, though, made it clear he is not pleased with the federal government's decision.
Under Saskatchewan's rules, when a private provider completes an MRI or CT scan that is paid for privately, they are required to conduct a second scan free of charge for an individual who is waiting on the public list, the provincial health minister said.
"The unique two-for-one provision gives patients more options in accessing diagnostics, adding capacity to the publicly funded system at no extra cost," he Merriman said in a statement Friday.
Since that scheme became available in Saskatchewan, approximately 14,000 MRI scans and 1,000 CT scans have been provided to patients on the public waiting list, the province said.
Merriman said the province plans to continue with its policy, and called on Ottawa to reverse the clawbacks while recognizing the benefits of Saskatchewan's approach.