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At a meeting today, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta will discuss a proposal to ban MRI and CT scans at private clinics. The idea has, not surprisingly, generated controversy.

For “nonurgent” scans, patients in Canada’s public health system can wait up to 34 weeks, or more than eight months. The province has at least 11 private clinics, where the wait time is just a few days—if you pay the cost of $750 or more out of your own pocket.

The college regulates the province’s doctors, One of its committees has recommended the ban on private scans. Trevor Theman, MD, the college’s registrar, said, according to the Calgary Herald:

Access should be based on medical need, not your ability to pay.

The Alberta Medical Association opposed the ban, saying it could make wait times even longer. A group of private clinics issued a joint statement saying merely, “The providers of private, community-based MRI/CT services in Alberta wish to reiterate our commitment to patient care, choice, and access.”

William Lahey, a specialist in health law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said banning private scans could force improvements to the public system. He told the Herald, “Limiting their availability to the public system will create the pressure on government for the problems of access to be addressed, whether it’s system capacity, better management of waiting lists, or inappropriate use.”

The Alberta health minister, Fred Horne, resoundingly came down on neither side of the issue. “I completely understand the concern of any Albertan who feels people should not be able to privately access and pay for a service like that,” he said. “I don’t want to pre-empt the college’s discussion … but I’m glad they’re discussing it.”

For additional perspectives, click here and here.

If the college approves the ban, physicians and the public will have 60 days to comment before the rule receives final approval. We’ll keep an eye on what happens.

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