Alberta interested in joining Ontario in doctor fee overhaul
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty speaks during a visit to Blammo Games in Toronto on Tuesday, May 1, 2012. (Frank Gunn / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Wednesday, May 16, 2012 1:23PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 11, 2012 4:43PM EDT
With Ontario making the first move to reduce doctors' fees for hundreds of services, Alberta is now saying it too wants to overhaul the way it pays its doctors.
Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne says his province is looking to overhaul its physician pay formula and wants to be part of national discussions on how to rein in escalating fees.
Horne told reporters Tuesday that the issue of rising health care costs is important right across the country, and his province is interested in further discussions with the other provinces on the matter.
Last week, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty sent a letter to his provincial counterparts, urging them to stand united on the issue of doctors' pay. That came just days after he announced his government would be implementing hundreds of cuts to the province's doctors' fees and wants a two-year wage freeze for doctors.
Other provinces are already showing interest in McGuinty's proposal. British Columbia, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have signalled that they too want to overhaul or cut certain fees in the midst of ballooning health costs.
If the provinces unite on the issue, it could lead to a complete revamp of the way health care is funded in Canada – a revamp that many say is long overdue.
In his letter to the provinces, McGuinty argued that new time-saving technologies allow doctors to see many more patients a day. It only makes good sense then, he said, that the payments to physicians should be reconsidered and re-balanced.
In an interview with CTV's Question Period on Sunday, McGuinty gave the example of cataract surgery, which used to take a surgeon four hours to perform. Thanks to new technology, the surgery now takes 15 minutes.
"We're saying that should be generating some savings for us," said McGuinty. "We're not going to pay you the same amount for the same surgery if you can do it in one-eighth of the time."
Horne suggested that McGuinty's letter hit home for his province.
"I think what the [McGuinty] letter does is it highlights there are some opportunities to look at physician compensation," Horne told The Globe and Mail.
"Not only as a way to fairly remunerate doctors, which we want to do, but to also help drive improvements in the health-care system over all."
The Ontario government announced earlier this month that several hundred service fees would be cut from what doctors can charge under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan. The decision came after the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) rejected a four-year deal with the province.
McGuinty says the bulk of the fee changes will not affect family doctors. Instead, most of the cuts will affect those specialties with new, more efficient technologies, such as ophthalmology, radiology and cardiology
Ontario doctors have already signalled they plan to fight back. The Coalition of Family Physicians and Specialists of Ontario urged Ontario doctors this week to "explore options" to practise medicine in more "hospitable" jurisdictions.
The Coalition calls the government's actions are "a serious threat to the medical profession and the people we serve."
"The McGuinty government's actions will undoubtedly result in reductions in access to medical care, more people without family physicians and longer wait times to see specialists for diagnostic testing and to have surgery," the group's president Dr. Douglas Mark said Tuesday.