Quebec health minister, radiologists at odds over publicly funded ultrasounds

by Leo Almazora06 Jan 2017
Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette and the leader of the province’s radiologists association have accused each other of using cheap tactics in the midst of negotiations involving publicly funded ultrasounds, according to the Globe and Mail.

On Dec. 29, a new policy under which Quebec’s public health insurance agency will cover ultrasounds carried out at private clinics took effect. However, the government and the province’s radiologists have not yet agreed on how the practitioners will be reimbursed.

Some instances of clinics cancelling ultrasound appointments have been reported, leading Barrette to conclude that radiologists are “taking patients hostage” to exert pressure on the government during the negotiations.

“It will not work,” Barrette said to CBC News. “They're used to making huge profits on each ultrasound exam and now they would still like to make some profit on their fees… and we don't allow profit on publicly funded exams.”

Barrette said to CBC that Quebec will cover the clinics’ costs and professional fees.

On the other hand, Dr. Vincent Oliva, president of Quebec Radiologists Association, has stated that concerns over appointment cancellations were a “false problem” Barrette was just seizing upon as a negotiating tactic.

“If a radiologist sees a patient who has an urgent condition, for sure he's going to do something about it and not just cancel his appointment,” Oliva said. He noted that while the radiologists agree with the decision to cover ultrasounds under the provincial health plan, they are apprehensive about implementing the policy when there are still details to be finalized.

“If he thinks we're taking patients hostage, he just has to suspend his bylaw so we can reach an agreement — that would be the most sensible thing to do,” Oliva said. “Instead, we're being kept in the dark and a lot of clinics are reluctant to enter into this because we don't trust him.”

While private practices are willing to absorb some reductions in profit from ultrasounds, they rely on fees to keep their doors open. “We need to find the sweet spot — what the true price is with a minimal margin of profit,” he said. “If these private clinics close, it will be much worse for the patients in Quebec, that's for sure.”

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