Province abolishing $60,000 cap on rural and remote health care program

by Morinville News Staff

The Government of Alberta announced Friday it was pausing overhead changes announced earlier this year for urban physicians and that effective immediately, it was abolishing the $60,000 cap on the Rural and Remote Northern Program (RRNP).

Additionally, medical liability rates for all rural physicians, including obstetrics, will be frozen at $1,000. Rates for all family physicians in Alberta will also be frozen at $1,000. Rates for all other urban physicians will range from a low of $1,200 to a maximum of $4,000.

“Over the last several weeks, discussions with rural caucus and rural physicians have made it clear that there are unique challenges to recruiting and retaining physicians in communities outside of Alberta’s major cities,” said Minister of Health Tyler Shandro in a news release Friday. “These changes recognize that difference and will significantly improve access to health care for patients in rural communities.”

The province has also contracted clinical researcher, Dr. Lee Green, to engage physicians on how to improve health care in rural communities through alternative compensation models.

Alberta’s NDP Opposition called Friday’s announcement a bandaid solution after sticking a knife in the back of Alberta’s rural doctors.

“I didn’t hear him admit any mistakes. I didn’t hear him accept any responsibility. And I didn’t see any doctors willing to stand beside him for his announcement,” siad NDP Opposition Critic for Health, David Shepherd. “Instead, he called them liars. Tyler Shandro has knifed rural Albertans in the back and offered them a BandAid.”

The NDP says Friday’s conference came after families in Stettler, Sundre, Lac La Biche, Rocky Mountain House, Rimbey, Canmore, Three Hills, Bragg Creek, Drayton Valley, Cold Lake, Lacombe and Pincher Creek have seen reduced access to a doctor.

Shepherd went on to call once again for Shandro’s removal and to urge the government MLAs to take up the NDP’s plan to resolve what they see as a crisis in rural healthcare.

“Restore the previous contract on a temporary basis, begin independent arbitration to develop a new contract, and repeal the sections of Bill 21 that allow Tyler Shandro to tear up any current or future contract with doctors on a whim,” Shepherd said.

The UCP announcement Friday said on-call rates for all rural physicians will range from $20 per hour to $23 per hour, increasing payments to more than 1,500 physicians who are on call in rural Alberta.

An additional $6 million will be used to pay 20 medical students schooling costs over the next three years as an incentive for young rural Albertans to return to practise in their home communities after completing medical school.

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