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A controversial approach to increasing the availability of MRI diagnostic tests has caught the eye of Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen — even at the risk of provoking the federal government.

Goertzen said he is willing to consider an initiative similar to one employed in Saskatchewan that has earned condemnation from Ottawa.

Earlier this year, Saskatchewan adopted a system allowing patients to purchase MRI tests from private providers and avoid lengthy waits. In exchange for each test sold privately, the provider has to agree to test someone on the public wait list at no charge to government.

Goertzen said Wednesday the so-called two-for-one system has a lot of merit.

"It is something that I am certainly willing to look (at) and try here in Manitoba. It takes a proponent, obviously, to want to do it and to come forward with an idea," he said .

"We have not had a proposal yet, but we’re certainly open to one."

Manitoba would have to introduce enabling legislation if it were to adopt a two-for-one exchange, but he’s open to other options for private-sector delivery of diagnostic tests.

"I would like to see a proposal come forward," he said.

Since the new system came into effect, 2,200 MRIs have been performed in Saskatchewan at no cost to taxpayers, the province says, while the waiting list for scans has dropped by more than 700 patients.

The initiative has so far saved the government nearly $1 million, Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter said Monday in a letter to federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, which was published by Saskatchewan media.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Provincial Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen says the two-for-one system has a lot of merit.</p>


Provincial Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen says the two-for-one system has a lot of merit.

Philpott had written to Reiter earlier in November to express concerns about private payments for MRIs.

"The federal government believes that all medically necessary diagnostic services, such as CT or MRI scans, should be covered by provincial health insurance plans whether the service is provided in a private clinic or a hospital," Philpott wrote.

"As such, I would like to see the province of Saskatchewan put an end to the current practice of encouraging private payment for diagnostic services and focus instead on ensuring that all residents have access to medically necessary services in a timely manner, regardless of ability, or willingness, to pay," she added.

Philpott also threatened to deduct federal health transfers to Saskatchewan commensurate with the value of private MRI payments.

Saskatchewan has cried foul, accusing Ottawa of advocating for innovation in the delivering of health-care services and then stifling it.

Rather than backing off its current course, Saskatchewan says it will table legislation to extend its two-for-one system to CT scans.

Earlier in the week, Goertzen pledged solidarity with Saskatchewan in its battle with Philpott.

"That is innovation in health care," he said. "The federal government is currently setting 100 per cent of the rules but is providing less than 25 per cent of the funding when it comes to health care."

Manitoba’s NDP Opposition is wondering why the Pallister government seems willing to risk the loss of federal transfer payments by going down the same road as its western neighbour.

"When the federal minister is very clear that there will be penalties for moving in this direction, why would the provincial government even be considering it at this point," health critic Matt Wiebe said Wednesday.

"We want to see innovation, absolutely, but we don’t want to see it at the expense of publicly funded, publicly delivered services like MRIs."


Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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