November 2nd marks one year since there has been any federal government action on Saskatchewan’s violations of the Canada Health Act

One year ago today, then federal health minister Jane Philpott issued a warning to Saskatchewan to end private MRI and CT scans or face penalties.

On November 2nd, 2016, then health minister Jane Philpott wrote:
“I have significant concerns that this legislation (MRI Facilities Licensing Act) runs counter to the fundamental principle of the Canada Health Act, that access to care shold be based on medical need, not the ability, or willingness, to pay.” The letter goes on to say: “If a province or territory permits charges for medically necessary services, including diagnostic services, they are subject to mandatory dollar-for-dollar deductions to the Canada Health Transfer payments.”

The federal government is responsible for enforcing the Canada Health Act and ensuring the provinces and territories deliver medically necessary care with no user fees or extra billing. If a province or territory does not comply with the Act, the federal government is to withhold dollar-for-dollar deductions to the Canada Health Transfer.

During the negotiations on the bilateral health agreements, Saskatchewan claimed it made a deal with the federal government to continue private MRI and CT scans in violation of the Canada Health Act for one to two years. The (then) health minister denied that such a deal had been made. But there has been no public release of the text of the agreement to confirm either of those accounts.

One year later, there has been no known enforcement of the Canada Health Act on Saskatchewan. In August, the Manitoba government announced that they are also planning a new private user-pay MRI. This announcement came the same day they signed their bilateral health agreement with the federal government.

The Provincial Auditor of Saskatchewan raised serious concerns in May of 2017 showing that the new private MRIs were not able to meet demand in Saskatchewan. A report released in June by the Ontario Health Coalition showed that Saskatchewan’s new public MRIs in Moosejaw were serving more patients than the private MRIs in Regina.

The Canadian Health Coalition was pleased to see the federal minister of health’s new mandate letter states that Minister Petitpas Taylor should: “Promote and defend the Canada Health Act to make absolutely clear that extra-billing and user fees are illegal under Canada’s public medicare system, and develop policies in collaboration with provinces and territories to improve verification and recourse mechanisms when instances of non-compliance arise.”

“It is extremely disappointing that there has been no action by our federal government in a year,” says Adrienne Silnicki, National Director, Policy and Advocacy, Canadian Health Coalition. “People are being denied quick access to medically necessary services because they are unable to pay. This is a direct violation of the Canada Health Act and the values and ethics of Canadians upon which we have built our public health care system. The public system has shown that it is better able to meet demand, but it requires the proper resources.”

Access to information requests filed by the Canadian Health Coalition in February 2017 continue to go unanswered.
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