Sask. Health Secretary ‘deeply disappointed’ by Ottawa’s recovery of $750,000 in patient fee referrals

In a statement released Friday, Saskatchewan Secretary of Health Paul Merriman made it clear he was not happy with the federal government's decision.  (Alexander Quon/CBC - photo credit)

In a statement released Friday, Saskatchewan Secretary of Health Paul Merriman made it clear he was not happy with the federal government’s decision. (Alexander Quon/CBC – photo credit)

Saskatchewan’s health secretary says he is “deeply disappointed” by Ottawa’s decision to reclaim nearly $750,000 in healthcare transfers after patients were billed 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 meetings with the federal government on the issue for more than six years.

“Until now, the federal government has been completely unwilling to address the issue with an open mind,” Merriman said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Federal Health Secretary Jean-Yves Duclos announced the Liberal government would make $82.5 million in health transfer deductions from eight provinces related to patient fees collected in 2020-21 for what Ottawa says “medically necessary services that should be available to patients free of charge.”

“There should be no fees for medically necessary healthcare, wherever people may live in this country,” Duclos said at a news conference in Ottawa.

Based on a federal estimate of the fees Saskatchewan residents will be billed for services such as MRI and CT scans in 2020-21, a total of $742,447 will be deducted from Saskatchewan.

The recovery is a small fraction of the $1.5 billion the federal government is sending to Saskatchewan through the Canada Health Transfer 2023-24.

More than half of the $82 million in deductions announced Friday are from Quebec.

Under the Health Care Act of Canada, provinces are prohibited from charging “insured persons” fees for medically necessary services.

The decision to do so is unacceptable and will not be tolerated, Duclos said.

Sask. Politics gives patients options: Merriman

The deductions can be reversed if provinces change their policies and ensure individuals are not forced to pay fees for medically necessary treatment.

Duclos used British Columbia — which received a $15 million refund instead of a deduction — as an example for the following eight provinces.

However, Merriman made it clear that he is not happy with the federal government’s decision.

Under Saskatchewan rules, if a private provider performs a privately paid MRI or CT scan, they must perform a second free scan for a person who is on the public list, the provincial health secretary said.

“The unique two-for-one provision gives patients more choices in accessing diagnostics and expands the publicly funded system at no additional cost,” Merriman said in a statement Friday.

Since that program became available in Saskatchewan, about 14,000 MRI scans and 1,000 CT scans have been made available to patients on the public waiting list, the province said.

Merriman said the province plans to continue its policy, urging Ottawa to roll back the recoveries while recognizing the benefits of Saskatchewan’s approach.


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