The Town of Bonnyville will be advocating for doctors amidst major changes by the provincial government on how physicians are paid and funded, said mayor Gene Sobolewski.
Last Thursday, the Alberta Government announced a new funding framework with the Alberta Medical Association after they were unable to come up with a new deal during negotiations.
A new plan with 11 new rules and fees for doctors will be in place Apr. 1 that has Sobolewski concerned about the quality of health care in Bonnyville and rural areas across the province.
The most contentious of the changes is the complex modifiers fees.
Currently, doctors can bill $41 as a base fee for each patient visit, but if a visit went past 15 minutes, doctors could bill an additional $18.
That will be halved to $9 for the remainder of the year as the new model is phased in, where an extra fee would only kick in after 25 minutes.
These changes to 25-minute visits would reduce fees by $200 million, the AMA said, and would hurt rural and family practices.
The AMA said they would immediately challenge the cancellation of the contract in court late last week.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said these changes were necessary because more time is needed to access complex patients and that the modifier is currently being abused.
The government argues the new master plan is a way to keep physician funding at $5.4 billion annually.
Shandro said it’s expected to prevent $2 billion in added costs over the next four years.
Cuts will ‘literally obliterate’ ability to recruit doctors, says Sobolewski
Mayor Gene Sobolewski said on The Morning After that these changes could have big effects locally after conversations with local doctors who estimate a 25-40 per cent cut.
“Essentially what’s going to happen here is that because of the cuts or the proposed cuts, it’s going to devastate the ability of people to access health care the way they currently enjoy now,” he said.
“The big cuts are coming in terms of how they operate the clinic. And if your a business in town every business owner here is feeling tough times, but if you woke up one morning, and you had an instantaneous cut of 40 per cent to your business, you’re going to be in dire straits,” he said.
“You’re going to go into emergency mode. How do I do this? Doctors will not be able to afford to maintain their practices. And this is the essence of what we’re talking about.
“So what’s going to happen to people, we’re going to have increased waits, we’re going to have increased visits in emerge. But more importantly, there’s many of them in rural Alberta that are just going to pack up and leave, they’re going to go to other provinces, down to the States, elsewhere in the world, where they’ll be able to set up their practice and do what they need to be able to do.”
Sobolewski said that could mean more unattached patients to family doctors, reduced or shut-down services and hurt how rural towns, like Bonnyville, attract doctors.
“It’s going to obliterate, literally obliterate our potential for doctor recruitment. How are we going to be able to say, yeah come to rural Alberta. You can’t quite operate your clinic in a practice basically conducive to what happens in rural Alberta.”
“These doctors are telling us face to face ‘Dear God, guys, this has got to stop. This is insanity. You’re going to drive us out of the province and drive us out of rural Alberta.’”
He said he’s talked to Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA Dave Hanson about the issue.
Hanson declined to comment until he understands how the issue will affect rural communities.
Bonnyville will lobby at RMA
Sobolewski said that the Town will be vocal at the spring Rural Municipalities of Alberta conference Mar. 16-18 on advocating for doctors.
“We’re going to have some dialogue with ministers. We’re going to be advocating on behalf of the doctors. The doctors themselves are looking at possibly setting up a town hall and explain to people here are some of the consequences. The province has introduced these cuts, here’s what it is and allow people to get very upset.
“But we have the ability to dialogue with ministers to basically bring the voice of people and talk and directly dialogue and say, know what you’re doing. You’ve gone too far. This is nuts. Back off.”