Quebec, Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia have allowed private clinics to do X-rays, CT scans and ultrasounds for years. Until recently, none of this was controversial, as long as the providers were operating within the domain of the Canadian health care system guidelines.
But this changed in the 1990's when the province of Alberta decided to permit a new generation of clinics. These clinics were offering both insured and non-insured medical services.
As an example, patients who wished cataract surgery could book an insured appointment and wait weeks. Or, they could pay out-of-pocket and get the service faster.
By the end of the decade, private MRI clinics in Nova Scotia, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec were offering so called "medically unnecessary" scans that allowed patients with money to jump the diagnostic queue.
MRI's are only considered to be insured services under the Canadian health care plans when they are provided in a hospital or a facility providing hospital care. The Canada Health Act says you can't charge for a medically necessary service.
Health critics dispute the government's position that private MRI's contravene the Canada Health Act. They point to the federal government's most recent annual report on the Act, which states "MRI's are only considered to be insured services under medicare when they are provided in a hospital or a facility providing hospital care".
Advocates of private clinics argue that the Canada Health Act allows for private diagnostic services as long as they are not performed in a hospital.