I was humbled to be elected as a voice for the constituency first back in 2015 and again in 2019. It is an honour of mine to represent the wonderful people of Lacombe-Ponoka. I have fought long and hard in opposition and in government for central Alberta health service to be up to the same standards of care as in the urban areas. And I will continue to do that. Here in Lacombe we just opened a new health services building.
I met with local doctors over upcoming changes in December. Since the release of the AHS Review by Ernst & Young, I have received considerable correspondence regarding health care. I have also been in ongoing discussions with all my associate rural MLAs and the Health Minister regarding the changes our government is proposing.
I want to address some of the concerns I’ve heard the past couple weeks from constituents.
I want to say that any rumours of facility closures can be dismissed as just that: rumors. There is no planning underway for significant changes to any of our health facilities here in Lacombe-Ponoka.
There has been a tremendous amount of malicious fearmongering surrounding a chart on page 79 of the Ernst & Young Report. This chart is from the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, where they deemed that certain procedures were of limited clinical value. This was not from AHS or the provincial government. It was simply an example from the NHS.
To be clear, our government is not de-listing any of the services listed on page 79 of the AHS Review Report. The opposition knows that full well, but have chosen to continue to repeat that false information. Minster Shandro has been very definitive about this. It is truly unfortunate that patients are worrying about access to services, all because the opposition has been using fearmongering as a tactic to score cheap political points.
I wanted to address some of the common misconceptions associated with the new physician funding framework. Our government is maintaining spending for physicians at $5.4 billion in 2020/21, the most we’ve ever spent. We are keeping Alberta doctors among the highest paid in Canada. The changes we are introducing will stop the continued expansion of Doctor costs to the government. If we do not limit growth, by 2023 it will have cost you, the tax payer, an additional $1.9 Billion in billing escalation. We are not cutting but we are not going to pay more. You the tax payer elected us to balance our budget and we will not fail you.
Alberta spends nearly 25 per cent more on physician services than comparable provinces; about $90,000 per year, per doctor than Ontario.
There have been various anecdotal reports of certain doctors losing significant portions of their revenue as a result of the changes to physician compensation. We’ve heard these concerns expressed by various physicians and the Alberta Medical Association (AMA).
These estimates vary widely, because the change that a physician will experience in their gross billings is highly dependent on how they practice, how many patients they see, the issues their patients present with, and the hours they work. Our position is that the fee for service model can not be applied as a blanket policy to all physicians, especially rural physicians.
That’s why we’ve streamlined the application process to be on Alternative Relationship Plan (ARP). This is to ensure that our physician compensation model works for Alberta patients and allows for the financial viability specifically of rural family physicians practices.
If any physician feels that they have no choice under the new framework but to limit patient visits to 10 minutes, or not provide certain services, I would strongly encourage them to consider moving from fee for service to an ARP.
I would ask that our physicians and other healthcare professionals work with me, the Minister, and AHS, to maintain and improve the standard of care that our residents deserve; understanding the fiscal crisis facing our province.
Unfortunately, I am unable to attend the Lacombe Doctors forum this Saturday. I have met with local doctors once, and will continue to do so. I’ve also received a tremendous amount of correspondence on this matter, and I know many of my colleagues, including the Minister, have as well.
I will be communicating with local clinics to invite doctors to come to my office this next week to discuss their ongoing concerns and provide what updates I can. I believe this will be a constructive process.
I encourage all constituents to continue to write, call, email and visit my constituency office. I want ensure individuals that your concerns are being heard.