by Morinville News Staff
The Government of Alberta will end its Master Agreement with the province’s doctors and put a new funding framework and 11 consultation proposals will take effect Mar. 31.
“Our province is facing cost overruns of $2 billion in the next three years due solely to physician compensation,” said Minister of Health Tyler Shandro. “If left unaddressed, these costs would impede efforts to reduce surgical wait times, improve mental health and addiction services, and expand the number of continuing care beds.”
Shandro went on to say that despite repeated efforts since September of 2019, the AMA failed to put forward alternatives that would hold the line on physician compensation.
“The new framework announced today [Feb. 20] will prevent cost overruns, allow our province to improve services for patients, and still ensure that Alberta’s doctors are amongst the highest-paid physicians in all of Canada.”
The NDP Opposition Critic for Health, David Shepherd, accused Jason Kenney of creating chaos in Alberta healthcare to pay for a $4.7-billion corporate giveaway.
“First it was hospitals, now it’s doctor’s offices and primary care clinics, and it’s families who will pay the price,” Shepherd said in a media release Thursday.
“Let’s be absolutely clear – this is going to have a serious impact on patient care. This chaos is going to be felt most especially in rural areas. Family physicians warned Jason Kenney in November that his plan would devastate rural care, with job losses and the closure of entire clinics.”
Shepherd said the UCP move comes on top of changes that took 60,000 seniors off their drug coverage plan and plans for the consolidation of up to 77 rural emergency departments and 28 labour and delivery wards.
“Now we’re also going to see significant pressure on rural primary care,” Shepherd said, accepting that Alberta needs to contain the growth of physician compensation. “It’s a problem that Conservative governments created. But I really question why this government chose to cut the most and the deepest from family doctors. It’s almost like a plan designed to inflict pain on the largest number of people.”
The UCP says Alberta has been spending more on physician salaries than other provinces, yet most of its health outcomes are below national averages. Alberta doctors earn about $90,000 more per year than Ontario doctors.
Changes to rein in physician spending in the province include reducing by half the amount physicians can charge for complex modifiers (the extra time spent with patients with more complex medical needs). The rate will drop from $18 to $9 for the next year at which time the billing code will be removed. Once the new framework phased in, physicians will be able to bill an additional fee after spending 25 minutes with a complex patient case. Alberta remains the only province in Canada that allows for a top-up payment for complex visits.
The province will also implement a cap of 65 patients per day, as is the case in B.C., remove physician overhead subsidies from all hospital-based services, and ending clinical stipends to physicians from Alberta Health Services, ending duplication of payments to contracted physicians, something the UCP says is a carry over to the days when there were several regional health authorities.
The full list of 11 consultation proposals can be found at https://www.alberta.ca/physician-funding-framework.aspx#p20918s5