OLDS – Olds town council will be asking local doctors to appear at an upcoming council meeting to discuss concerns with controversial changes being proposed to the province’s physician billing system.
The move came by way of motion at the recent regularly scheduled council meeting and followed the receipt of two letters from the Olds-based Wild Rose Medical Centre.
In one of the letters, Dr. Martha Ingles, the physician chair and director of the centre, said doctors at the clinic are “very concerned about Alberta Health Care’s ‘consultation’ proposals.
“The proposed changes to family physician incomes through this consultation process will cause physicians to alter their business practice, which more importantly may reduce comprehensive patient care, and/or reduction in staffing employment at the clinic,” Ingles said.
The UCP government recently informed the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) of proposed changes to the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan, changes that include reductions in the time modifier for appointment times, and no longer paying for seniors' mandatory driver medical exams.
The adjustments would bring Alberta’s health-care spending in line with other provinces, according to the Ministry of Health.
The Wild Rose Medical Centre has 17 clinic physicians, as well as locum physicians, contract workers and more than 20 staff members.
Physicians at the clinic are “deeply concerned about these potential changes in the compensation to providers of medical care, as users of health care in Alberta, and as business owners,” said Ingles.
In the second letter, also received by council on Jan. 13, she provided further comments.
“I am distressed how the current proposals will unfairly affect family medicine more than other already higher paid specialties,” she said.
“I am unsure if I will remain working here with the proposed unilateral cuts introduced to the AMA as a ‘consultation’ and the negative comments being placed on Twitter, etc. by the current politicians in regards to physician reactions to these proposals.
“Since these proposals have come out I have felt sorry for my patients and how this is going to force me to change how I care for them or leave them without a family physician.”
Olds mayor Michael Muzychka says the town relies on its physicians and councillors want to know what role the municipality might play in ensuring ongoing medical services in the community.
That is why councillors have asked physicians to come before council, he said.
“There is a fair amount of concern with the way doctors are being paid and there is a significant change to that from the Alberta government, so we’d like to see how we can help advocate for them because it is obviously important that we retain as many doctors as we possibly can in town and keep them as happy as possible,” said Muzychka.
“There are a lot of rural municipalities that are going to be drastically affected by something like this. They are obviously a vital service in our town and we need to be proactive.”
Asked if council believes the town may lose physicians, he said, “Yes, there is talk around the campfire that that may happen. I hope it would be minimal, if any at all.”
Council will also be inviting representatives from other local clinics and officials from the RHPAP (Rural Health Professions Action Plan) to appear before council at an upcoming meeting.
“They are a good organization that deals directly with rural doctors,” he said.
The Canadian Taxpayers' Federation reportedly says the average fee-for-service salary for an Alberta doctor is $413,035.
Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills UCP MLA Nathan Cooper says he plans to meet with area doctors this week in a closed-door meeting to discuss the current situation.
“I think negotiations with doctors are always complex,” said Cooper. “The province spends $5.2 billion a year on physician compensation and that’s about 25 per cent of the entire health budget.
“What I think is important is that we as elected (MLAs) work closely with the physician community to hear from them and have a real understanding of how the proposed changes may or may not impact certain demographics of physicians.”
Cooper’s meeting with the physicians will take place on Feb. 21, he said.
“I want to hear directly from them how this decision may impact their clinics and their practices,” he said. “The last thing we want is doctors who are unwilling to practise in rural Alberta.”
Cooper and other rural UCP MLAs have been in contact with the minister of health “to make sure that we are aware of the unique challenges” facing rural physicians, he said.
Cooper said he is pleased that Olds doctors will be appearing before Olds council.
“I think it’s a good place for people to get information directly from physicians,” he said.
Asked if any of the proposed changes are set in stone, he said, “Particularly around negotiations between the province and the AMA, and the cost of physician compensation, is an ongoing situation and I think will be a long-standing negotiation.”With files from Scott Strasser, Great West Newspapers.