Unilaterally ripping up doctors agreements will leave Albertans paying more out of pocket

Unilaterally ripping up doctors' agreement will leave Albertans paying more out of pocket

Today, Minister Shandro announced that his government would be terminating the current contract between the Alberta government and the Alberta Medical Association (AMA), and, as per the MacKinnon Report, using “legislative options” to make changes to physician compensation. No mention was made as to the resulting delisting of services from the Schedule of Medical Benefits (SOMB), which lists everything that physicians and health practitioners are able to bill for.

“As we have seen over the years, anytime services are delisted, the costs are passed down to patients,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare.

During today’s press conference, the minister stated that the government is implementing a new physician funding framework as of March 31, 2020, and that physicians will be encouraged to move to a Clinical Alternative Relation Plan (ARP) payment model. This decision by the Alberta government to unilaterally end its long-standing master agreement with Alberta’s doctors represents a dangerous precedent in the manner in which this government is willing to push forward their agenda.

“As with any payment model there are pros and cons, and as with any bargaining process there needs to be a process that this government has basically shut down,” says Azocar. “Compensation is among one the of key policy levers that governments can harness to influence health-system performance. However, budgetary decisions that impact compensation, working conditions, and what is or is not covered should not be determined by some bogus measure of fiscal health, but rather by how it will contribute to human health now and in the future.”

As part of the new physician funding framework, the government has outlined 11 consultation proposals that will not only negatively impact the financial bottom line for family physicians, but also for Albertans themselves. Some of changes include:

  • Albertans who are 74.5 years old or over will soon have to pay for their Driver Medical Exam out of pocket – seniors will need to pay at least $85.52 per year.
  • Payments for referrals by non-publicly funded practitioners such as chiropractors, audiologists and physiotherapists for publicly-funded diagnostic imaging will be the responsibility of patients. Referrals by these practitioners would be deemed uninsured.
  • Physicians will no longer be able to submit good faith claims for patients who cannot provide identification, a move that will leave vulnerable populations without access to health care.
  • There will be an end to clinical stipends, impacting primary care in rural areas especially.

Friends of Medicare is deeply concerned about this government’s apparent disregard for good-faith bargaining with Alberta’s health practitioners, and even more so about their continual impudence to impose major policy changes on Alberta’s health care system without the necessary long-term consideration for workers and patients who will no doubt be impacted.

“One by one we have seen this government make targeted attacks on various sectors of our public health care, with little consideration for the reverberations that these changes will have on the rest of the system, nor for the patients themselves,” says Azocar. “It is a shame that we continuously have to remind this government that behind every health policy change there are real people that will be impacted. Albertans deserve better.”

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