The federal government will investigate whether a Toronto-area hospital broke the law by giving patients who paid quicker access to "medically necessary" MRI scans.
Federal Health Minister Allan Rock wrote that he is "concerned about reported charges to patients for MRI services at the William Osler Health Centre" and intends to follow it up with the Ontario government.
Mr. Rock made the remarks in a letter to Ontario New Democratic MPP Frances Lankin, who had asked him to review the matter, saying the provincial government "failed to take appropriate investigative action."
The probe follows a story in The Globe and Mail that revealed how patients had paid a private company, Medical Referrals International Inc., or co-paid it through their insurance.
The company in turn paid the Brampton hospital to give its clients speedy access to one of the hospital's magnetic resonance imaging scanners.
The Ontario government said it would investigate the matter, but documents obtained under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act show it never did.
Instead, William Osler Health Centre investigated itself and hired a consultant to do a review, not an audit, which would have been much more thorough.
That review concluded that the hospital had complied with government regulations and that patients did not pay for any medically necessary MRI scans.
In his letter to Ms. Lankin, dated Jan. 25, Mr. Rock wrote that "charging insured persons for an insured service, or allowing them to pay for quicker access to such a service, would be considered a user charge under the Canada Health Act."
Medically necessary MRI scans, he wrote, are "insured health services under the act when provided in a hospital or diagnostic-services clinic."
Over the past two weeks, several patients have received letters from William Osler Health Centre stating that the magnetic resonance scans they had several months ago have since been funded through the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.
"In light of new information that you have provided to us, namely that you personally paid MRI Inc. using your own Visa card, we have notified MRI Inc. that we will not and do not accept payment for the MRI services provided to you," Dr. Don Trant, vice-president of patient programs for William Osler Health Centre, wrote in a Jan. 12 letter to a patient.
"Under these circumstances we do not expect that you would have paid, and if you have paid MRI Inc. and have not received a reimbursement from them, we suggest that you approach MRI Inc. to resolve the matter," he wrote.