By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on May 8, 2020.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a lot of debate over physician compensation in Alberta. Any time conversations take place around compensation, they are always bound to be laden with emotion – and the discussion around physician compensation is no different.
The issue of doctor compensation is complex and not simply solved, and is not a matter of “the government” versus “doctors” despite how it may sound at times. It becomes even more contentious when doctors warn Albertans that unless we leave their compensation untouched, we could see doctors leaving. This is extremely unhelpful and instantly produces anxiety in a large number of the public we serve. It also threatens the ability to engage in true, trusted discussion and negotiation. And while I respect the rights of doctors to publicly express their concerns over any modifications to the current status quo, it is one thing to criticize proposals and measures, and another to provide real, substantial and collaborative counter proposals of sustainable solutions for all Albertans.
The fact is that Alberta’s physicians remain the highest paid amongst all provinces – because as Albertans we hold our physicians in high regard. And the proof is in the fact that during the COVID-19 crisis, our government cancelled the planned changes to complex modifiers, suspended changes to AHS stipends, and created new fee codes to allow physicians to bill unlimited phone or video calls at the same rate as an office visit. This was done in support of our physicians and in order to ensure that patients would receive the care they need.
Further measures that our government has taken include:
– Removing the $60,000 cap from the Rural & Remote Norther Program which compensates physicians who provide services in under-serviced areas in Alberta causing rural physicians to be among the highest paid in Canada;
– Providing $100 million to enable our hospitals to perform more complex surgeries per year while also freeing up rural surgical facilities to provide lower-risk surgeries more quickly;
– Exempting rural physicians from the new overhead policy and pausing these changes for urban physicians pending a policy review;
– Freezing the medical liability insurance rates for all rural physicians and all family physicians at $1,000/year and with a maximum of $4,000 for urban specialists while the government covers the rest of the $4,000 to $47,000 per year of these insurance rates;
– Announcing $6 million to pay for 20 medical student scholarships over the next three years to help attract and retain new rural physicians.
It bears noting that our government is committed to spending $5.4 billion in physician compensation, representing the highest level of spending for physician compensation ever. It also bears noting that for over a decade, health-care costs in Alberta have been rising at a rate of five to eight per cent per year which will amount to over $1 billion per year in the years ahead and growing. The issue around physician compensation has never been about whether our government values our doctors. We obviously value them. And because we value them, we compensate them very well. The issue in renegotiating the Physician Master Agreement has always been about finding a sustainably and fiscally responsible path to continue compensating our physicians into the future.
Physician compensation in Alberta has not been cut, it is being maintained. Further, Alberta spends nearly 25 per cent more per capita on physician services. Compared to physicians in Ontario, Alberta’s physicians are compensated an average of $90,000 more per year. If, as Albertans, we think that doctors are going to leave for greener pastures, we need to realize that there are no greener pastures in Canada than right here in Alberta.
Nathan Neudorf is the UCP MLA for Lethbridge East. His column appears monthly.