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  • Writer's pictureEdmonton Journal

December 4, 2019: Notes from the Dome: Lower fees for family doctors, sitting's end in sight

Family doctors would bear the disproportionate burden of changes to doctor pay, according to a proposal the provincial government has floated before Alberta physicians.

The house could rise as soon as Thursday if all government bills pass third reading. PHOTO BY SHAUGHN BUTTS /Postmedia, file


Family doctors would bear the disproportionate burden of changes to doctor pay, according to a proposal the provincial government has floated before Alberta physicians.

A daily cap on the number of patients a doctor could be paid to see and requiring senior citizens to pay for driver medical exams are among 11 proposed changes the government said could save $262 million a year, according to documents obtained by Postmedia.

Most of the money — an estimated 85 per cent — would be clawed back from family physicians, which has irked the Alberta Medical Association.

“This is counter to sound health policy, the government’s health platform and the interest of patients, particularly elderly ones, those with chronic and complex conditions, and those living in rural or remote areas of the province,” said AMA president Dr. Christine Molnar in a letter posted on the association’s website last week.

Cap of 65 patients per day

Among the government’s proposals are limiting doctors to seeing 65 patients a day for pay, and getting paid half the regular fee-for-service rate per patient after seeing more than 50 people a day.

X-rays and ultrasounds currently ordered by physiotherapists or chiropractors would no longer be publicly insured and drivers older than 74.5 years would no longer qualify for a free medical test to keep their licence.

The government also wants to end “good faith” billing, which allows doctors to charge government for care given to people who show up in clinics and emergency rooms without a health card.

Ending the “good faith” billing is directed at non-citizens and non-residents, rather than denying access to people in poverty — most of who are registered digitally, said Steve Buick, press secretary to Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

The Alberta NDP held a press conference Tuesday with doctors and nurses concerned about changes to the health system and proposed reductions of unionized health-care worker positions.

“Patients without good, comprehensive primary care will ultimately be forced to higher-cost areas of our health-care system such as emergency departments and admissions to hospital,” Dr. Lauren Eastman said in an NDP press release.

The AMA said some of the changes would have to be negotiated in their employment contract. The association has until Dec. 20 to respond to the proposals.

Notley calls for health debate

Shandro told reporters at the legislature Alberta spends more per capita on health care than other provinces, and that government needs to bring spending in line. He said he looked forward to seeing the AMA’s response to the proposal.

During question period Tuesday, Shandro said the health system’s malleability is a feature, not a bug, that can result in better patient care and wiser spending of the ministry’s $22-billion budget.

NDP leader Rachel Notley also demanded Premier Jason Kenney debate her in public on changes to the health-care system the government did not campaign on. She also criticized government’s proposals to privatize laboratory services and paramedics.

Kenney said Albertans did hear a public debate on health care during the election. He said taxpayers can’t afford wage hikes some unionized health-care workers are seeking.

“When the NDP is desperate, the roll out the old Mediscare card,” Kenney said.

Kenney also said surgical wait times increased under the NDP government while spending rose.

The end is near

Government house leader Jason Nixon said Tuesday he hopes MLAs will pass all government bills by the end of Thursday, allowing the house to rise by the week’s end.

As of Tuesday afternoon, four government bills were still under debate: two omnibus bills to implement the budget, the Farm Freedom and Safety Act and the Municipal Government (Machinery and Equipment Tax Incentives) Amendment Act.

“The government decides when we go in, and the Opposition decides when we go home,” Nixon told reporters.

Several private members’ bills currently up for consideration will stay on the books until government decides to prorogue the session.

“We’re in no hurry to make that decision,” he said.

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