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More MS news articles for October 2003

Tories accused of 'flip-flopping' on private MRIs

Clement rules out cash-for-scan plan
Says paying was `never' an option

Sep. 30, 2003. 01:00 AM
Theresa Boyle
Queens's Park Bureau
Toronto Star

The provincial government now says patients won't be able to pay cash under any circumstances for MRI and CT scans at new private clinics.

Almost 15 months after Health Minister Tony Clement left open that possibility, he has now ruled it out. And he has even denied ever saying Ontarians would be able to pay out-of-pocket for tests that were not medically necessary.

"People were never going to pay out of pocket for MRIs," he said when tracked down at a political rally in Mississauga Friday night.

"No, I didn't (say that.) Not true. Stick to the facts," an angry Clement said in an interview.

The controversy dates back to a July 8, 2002, news conference at Mount Sinai Hospital, where Clement announced that up to 25 private MRI and CT clinics would be opening in Ontario.

In response to questions from reporters, he said "we would allow" people to walk in off the street to the private clinics and plunk down cash for scans that are not medically necessary. The government had never clearly ruled out such scans since then.

At issue are so-called "yuppie scans," which otherwise healthy people could purchase with their doctor's permission to satisfy their own curiosity.

The government is now saying that only tests covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, and third-party scans covered by insurance companies and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, will be permitted at the clinics.

Dr. Giuseppe Tarulli, president of the Ontario Association of Radiologists, accused the Tories of changing their stance on the issue because they realize it's politically unpopular.

"They are flip-flopping. The minister clearly stated that people could buy scans. We had people at that news conference who heard him," said the radiologist.

"Now they don't want to touch it with a 10-foot pole," he said. "They're trying to cover their tracks because there's an election and people don't want this."

Tarulli said Clement's office has also been evasive with his organization since July last year in providing details of the plan to allow people to pay cash for scans.

"We asked for clarification many times. They never gave us clarification," he said.

Critics have expressed concern that the scheme wouldn't be fair to those who couldn't afford to pay for scans because it would lead to queue jumping.

Ontario residents now experience lengthy waits for scans. Waits for non-urgent MRI scans can be up to a year in some areas of the province while waits for CT scans can be up to three months.

MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) are used to take clear images of internal organs and in diagnosing cancers, multiple sclerosis and other heart, brain and nervous system diseases. CT scans (computerized tomography) use radiation to diagnose diseases and stroke.

Both opposition parties oppose the private MRI clinics, saying they represent the thin edge of the wedge of a two-tier health system. Profits for private operators would come from scarce health-care resources, they say.

Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty, whose party is leading in the polls and is expected to win Thursday's election, says he will close the clinics and move the services back into public hospitals.

Copyright © 2003, Toronto Star Newspapers Limited