The provincial government and doctors with the Alberta Medical Association have officially signed an amended contract that both sides say will make the health care system more efficient over time. Taxpayers could save up to half a billion dollars over the next two years.
The deal was ratified in October, when 74 per cent of doctors voted in favour of a tentative contract reached during the summer. The new agreement calls for amending the terms of an existing contract that lasts until 2018.
“The doctors themselves have put some money on the line,” health minister Sarah Hoffman told a news conference. “They’ve said if we haven’t been able to achieve these outcomes we’re going to give up some retention bonuses and our rural and remote a few other pieces that they of course want to retain.”
“The doctors have agreed to with hold some payments to see if we can achieve some cost savings,” said AMA president Dr. Padraic Carr. “But we’re looking at our rules and saying are there lower value services that potentially we can change that may save some money for the province while still maintaining that quality care.”
The deal spells out improvements to patient access and health system sustainability, including an amendment to develop a needs-based “physician resource plan.”
The plan will put doctors in communities that need them and, the province claims, will improve primary care and information sharing. The health minister said the agreement will keep the health system sustainable in the long term.
“The Physician Resource Plan is an example of the commitment to patient care and innovation that we share with the AMA and all of its members as stewards of our health system,” Hoffman stated.
The new deal aims to compensate doctors for time and quality of care given to patients — not just for the number of services provided. Up until now, Alberta has mainly relied on a fees-for-service system in which doctors bill the government for medical procedures based on amounts set out in a schedule.
The cost retention aspect of this pleases Hoffman. “That to us means having still an increase because we know that our needs are continuing to increase, but doing it at a rate that’s far more sustainable and working with the physicians we’ve landed on a range that should be three to five per cent and that’s certainly is far greater than the seven to nine per cent that we’ve been experiencing historically.”
Alberta Health Services CEO Verna Yiu said this will signal to the other unions that the system will need to contain costs with them as well. “Part of our challenge I would say is at the current rate that we’re going it’s totally unsustainable. And that we need each and every individual whether it be our employees, the physician community, the public, we all have to understand that we all have to contribute one way or the other in terms of the sustainability piece.”
According to the government, Alberta spends $1,058 per capita on physicians — the highest in Canada. The province said in recent years, growth in the physician services budget has been between seven per cent and nine per cent annually.
(630 CHED News – with files from Karen Bartko, Global News and the Canadian Press)