Lacombe Primary Care Physicians in Lacombe recently held a Town Hall to discuss their concerns with changes made by the Alberta Government to their remuneration policies.
Twelve currently practicing Lacombe doctors attended the meeting, which had over 250 attendees crammed into the Lacombe County room of the Lacombe Memorial Centre, to outline their concerns — particularly on how changes to complex modifiers will affect patient care in Lacombe.
Dr. Kathy Unger, rural family doctor in Lacombe, said that, despite the negotiations with the government being about doctor pay, the reason for the town hall was primarily about how the changes will negatively affect patient care in Alberta.
“We want this government to come back to the negotiating table so we can find a fair way to meet their budget demands without jeopardizing the care we give our patients,” she said.
The current contract with the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) was cancelled by the Government of Alberta and changes to the way primary care doctors can bill for extra time needed with patients will go into affect April 1, unless the AMA and the government can come to a different agreement.
Unger said doctors in Alberta understand the current difficult economic times in Alberta but said the changes proposed by the government made to primary care will put patients at risk.
“It is our hope and intention the government will listen, come to the negotiating table and allow us to make cuts that don’t directly affect patient care as these ones do,” she said.
Unger said the changes remove compensation for extra time spent with patients, which was previously billed at a reduced rate. That removal means, according to Unger, that many practices may be forced to fold due to having to pay staff and overhead.
“That removes our ability to give extra time to either deal with patients with complex medical problems or that come to their appointments with several issues to discuss. That happens often,” she said.
Unger hopes the large turnout will send a message to the government, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr, who was not in attendance.
“I hope he (Orr) will listen to his constituents and represent us. I hope he hears that the citizens of Lacombe are concerned and I hope he hears that the citizens of Lacombe value their physicians and their healthcare system. I hope he hears that and takes it to his party,” she said.
Unger also hopes that the government stops propagating “inaccurate information” while this process unfolds.
“There are numbers that have been selected and skewed to support an agenda and that is discouraging for us. In medicine, we value evidence, we value outcomes and we support doing good research before you come to a conclusion. Unfortunately, we have not seen this government do that,” she said.
Unger said Albertan doctors are paid well and their pay is comparable across Canada.
“We are not 35 per cent better, which is one of the myths this government has propagated. As most people who reside in Alberta can attest to, the cost of living in Alberta and wages in general are higher than average. Yes we are thankful to practice in Alberta and we are paid well here, but one of the myths is doctors make $100,000 more than doctors in other provinces and that is simply not true,” she said.
Unger said the doctors in the AMA are completely united and the AMA will continue to negotiate with this government as it has with all governments in Alberta for the last 118 years.
“I can say, without reservation, that I have never seen physicians more united and that is across the board,” she said.
Dr. Chris Sveen, rural family doctor in Lacombe, said part of the process of negotiating is rebuilding a relationship with the government.
“We work hard to maintain relationships with our patients and a lot of us are not feeling too appreciated or respected anymore,” he said. “We want our governing body, the AMA, to be our negotiating body that negotiates a reasonable and fair reduction in our compensation that factors in the overhead that each physician group has to pay.
“We are more than willing to do that.”