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Saskatchewan to cut chiropractic coverage in upcoming budget?
Written by Jennifer Graham, The Canadian Press   

March 10, Regina, Sask. – Saskatchewan chiropractors say they fear the government is on the verge of delisting their services as the province looks to cut costs in its upcoming budget.

But the chiropractors association argues that the move would have the opposite effect because patients would be forced to seek other care that could cost more in the long run.

"Our opinion is by delisting chiropractic services you're going to take a group ... of people who aren't going to be able to afford that service and they're going to start clogging up the medical system, which is what we're trying to not do,'' said association president Dr. Shane Taylor.

"So we think it's going backwards.''

Taylor said instead of using a chiropractor, people will turn to the system that is free. They'll line up at physicians offices or emergency rooms, he said.

The association believes that would cost the government more than the $10 million that it would provide for chiropractic services this year under a proposed contract. Taylor said the services cost the province $11.5 million last year, but the new deal reached late last year would have lowered the government's share of the fees.

The province currently covers $12.25 for a chiropractic visit and patients pay about $17 per visit. There's no limit on the number of chiropractic visits that are covered in a year.

Taylor said the new contract would have put a cap structure in place where the government would have paid the fee for up to 16 visits a year. The government would pay two-thirds of the fee for visits 17 to 40 and wouldn't pay anything for additional appointments.

"We agreed to that and we thought that was a fair agreement,'' said Taylor.

However, the province has since said it won't sign off on the agreement. Health Minister Don McMorris said the government hasn't walked away from the contract, but there are concerns about whether it can pony up the money for the services.

"I just simply cannot sign a contract until I can guarantee that I can fund it,'' said McMorris.

The Saskatchewan government is looking to hold the line on spending and trim costs in the budget.

Saskatchewan needs to tighten its belt because potash left a big hole in provincial coffers. The pink mineral used in fertilizer was expected to bring in $1.9 billion in revenue, but the third-quarter financial report said the province won't make any money on potash in 2009-10 and is actually in the red by $203.9 million.

Premier Brad Wall has also said there will be a zero per cent spending increase overall in the budget and that includes a three per cent hike in health spending, which means other ministries will face cuts.

McMorris said everything is on the table.

The health minister also noted that Saskatchewan and Manitoba are the only provinces to cover chiropractic services, while a few others cover only low-income patients. It wouldn't be unusual for patients to have to cover the full cost, he said.

"You won't ever hear me say that the service that chiropractors deliver isn't effective, isn't helpful, but I won't make that argument either about physiotherapy or massage therapy. All those services are effective to individuals. We don't cover them all,'' said McMorris.

"We have been subsidizing chiropractic service and as we move forward with the budget we'll find out as to whether those services will be covered into the future.''

Opposition NDP health critic Judy Junor said it's clear that chiropractic services are "definitely on the chopping block.''

"A three per cent (increase) in health is basically zero and that's a lot of services that will have to be cut if they're going to stick to three per cent. There's more bad news coming,'' said Junor.

Source: The Canadian Press