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Ophthalmologists ask to opt-out of Alberta Medical Association, bargain directly with province

Ophthalmology resident Dr. Vikram Lekhi using the Eyesi in Calgary April 12, 2016. Global News

As tensions continue between the province and the Alberta Medical Association (AMA), ophthalmologists are asking the government to consider alternative communication methods for some Alberta physicians.

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On July 16, the Eye Physicians and Surgeons Association of Alberta penned an open letter to Health Minister Tyler Shandro asking to be released from the AMA and handle negotiations with the government directly.

“We want to communicate our desire to move forward in a positive manner,” the letter said.

“We understand and support your intent to amend legislation to allow groups of physicians other than the AMA to negotiate directly with the government. We are hereby communicating our intent to do that.”

Read more: Alberta Medical Association files lawsuit against provincial government

Failed negotiations have been a point of continued contention between the AMA and the UCP government, and in April the AMA filed a lawsuit against the province, citing the government’s conduct during negotiations as an aggravating factor.

The EPSAA noted that these stalled communications have created a stressful environment for patients across the province.

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“EPSAA did not agree with AMA’s legal action chiefly because it did nothing to further that objective,” the letter said.

The letter also stated the EPSAA has experienced several other differences with the AMA in the past, leading to their decision to separate from the association.

“For some years now, ophthalmologists have found the AMA structure and its processes disappointing,” the letter said.

“Letting down our physician colleagues in a number of specialties which invariably affects their ability to provide the optimal patient care all Albertans deserve.”

As compensation remains a prominent issue for physicians across the province, the letter also stated that the EPSAA is willing to work with the government to find cost-effective measures to continue providing high-quality health care in Alberta.

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“We are profoundly aware that all physicians are compensated from public tax-payer dollars, and just as we are stewards for providing high-quality medical care, we are equally accountable for our costs to the system,” the letter read.

“Together, we have the ability to provide affordable high-quality health care for Albertans.”

Moving forward, the EPSAA is asking the government to consider all options that would allow the organization to enter into separate talks with the province outside of the AMA.

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“One option is to create an Alberta Vision Care  Agency as the delivery agent for vision and eye thealth care. It would be a regional authority governed by the Regional Health Authorities Act,” the letter said.

The association added the province could also create a health trust, however, noted that may require legislative changes.

Read more: Alberta escalates pay fight with doctors, asks regulatory college to intervene

In a statement Monday, Shandro publicly responded to the letter, noting his government is willing to work with the EPSAA to find solutions that will help move health care forward across the province.

“The past few months have been trying and difficult, and I understand why there is frustration and a desire to seek new solutions,” Shandro said.

“As I have said from the start, I am willing to meet with any group of physicians who have suggestions as to how to hold spending to current levels and avoid cost overruns.

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“I look forward to meeting with the EPSAA in the coming days.”

However, Shandro added that changes will have to be made to the province’s current legislation to bring any negotiation changes into effect.

“The previous government appointed the AMA as the exclusive representative of physicians in legislation in 2017,” he said.

“In order to negotiate with a different group of physicians, that legislation would need to be amended.”

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