The Alberta government and the province’s physicians signed a new deal Friday morning that is expected to save half a billion dollars in the next two years and make the system more efficient over time.
The deal was ratified last month, when 74 per cent of doctors voted in favour of a tentative contract reached last summer. The new agreement calls for amending the terms of an existing Alberta Medical Association (AMA) contract that runs until 2018.
The signing at the Alberta Legislature was attended by Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, Alberta Medical Association president Dr. Padraic Carr, and Alberta Health Services president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu. All three spoke about what the deal means to patients 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.
Dr. Padraic Carr said the AMA recognizes that doctors need to be part of making the health-care system fiscally sustainable.
“We are pleased that what we have achieved moderates health-care expenditure growth and provides for collaboration and shared responsibility in needs-based physician resource planning, savings initiatives and other things,” Carr said.
Al Kemmere, president of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties, was also at Friday’s event and talked about the challenges of accessing physician care in rural Alberta.
“Many Alberta rural municipalities have long struggled from an insufficient and inconsistent number of doctors,” Kemmere said. “We are hopeful this new plan will assist rural communities to recruit and retain physicians for the benefit of all their citizens.”
For years there has been a shortage of doctors in rural settings.
In one instance, the town of Milk River spent nearly 10 years recruiting after the southern Alberta community’s family doctor tried to retire three times. After putting up billboards and even hiring an outside company for recruiting help, two replacement doctors were finally hired last year.
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.
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.
The new amended agreement will slow the rate of growth, and the province expects to see potential savings of up to $500 million over the next two years.
— With files from The Canadian Press