Atlantic premiers create regional doctor registry as federal health funding talks begin

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his Maritime counterparts spoke Monday about the proposed dental care program that the federal government is exploring, with each calling for more details on the plan while also stressing Ottawa should put the primary focus on the ongoing health-care system crisis. Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King added he would like to see Ottawa focus on the current system by expanding and strengthening it, and pointed to his province's own system as a good example – Aug 22, 2022

A new regional register that will allow doctors to practice in any Atlantic province with no additional licensing is an important first step in moving forward with modernizing health care following funding talks with Ottawa, Canada’s Atlantic premiers say.

The premiers announced the new regional licensing register following a meeting of the Council of Atlantic Premiers in P.E.I. Monday.

This measure, which has been in development for the last several months and will launch May 1, will allow physicians and surgeons to opt-in to allow them to move more freely within the region, cutting down on the red tape and administrative burden for doctors only licensed in the province in which they are currently practicing, said Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey.

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“It will open up the pool of people who are available for certain gaps in the system, ” he told reporters during a news conference in Charlottetown.

Currently, physicians are required to have individual medical licences in each province or territory in which they practise.

This means they can’t easily travel to another province to help a colleague or provide care for patients in need without obtaining a licence in that province or territory — a process that can be complicated, time-consuming and costly.

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New physicians in particular have expressed a desire for more opportunity to have “different experiences” and to be able to react to needs in various geographic areas, Furey said.

“We think that… having this mobility and eliminating the barriers to moving around Atlantic Canada first, and ultimately, we hope, the nation, will be something that’s very attractive.”

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This announcement comes after all 13 of Canada’s premiers agreed in principle to a funding deal from the federal Liberals presented during a health summit with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Feb. 7.

The deal will infuse $46.2 billion in new money for health care over the next decade to the provinces and territories on top of pre-established health funding streams from Ottawa.

This new federal money includes several elements, including $25 million earmarked for bilateral deals with each individual province and territory to be aimed at targeted measures responsive to the unique needs of each region.

The four Atlantic premiers say their meetings Monday included discussions about Ottawa’s health funding offer, including areas of shared priorities and needs, such as recruitment and retention of health workers.

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said part of these discussions involved an acknowledgement that some of the key problems in health care are the result of “self-inflicted wounds in terms of how our systems are built.” But he said working with other governments on measures like multi-jurisdictional licensing for health workers will benefit residents and patients across eastern Canada.

“Nothing that we do in health is a magic bullet that will just miraculously fix everything, but I think this is just one more small little thing that keeps us moving forward and will make a difference not just today, but into the future.”

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Talks between the premiers and Ottawa to negotiate bilateral deals have only just begun, as only two of the four premiers have begun those preliminary discussions with federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

But so far, the outlook on outcomes is positive, the Atlantic premiers said Monday.

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Smaller regions of the country like the Atlantic provinces have tended to get better outcomes from these kinds of one-on-one deals with the federal government, King said, including more targeted investment and more money.

“So, that’s what we’re really hoping for here in this process,” he said.

By earmarking a significant portion of the new federal health money for bilateral deals, Ottawa has shifted the funding formula away from a per-capita model, which is a “big win for Atlantic Canada,” Furey explained.

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“That allows for consideration of demographics, geographic complexity, economies of scale, which are not captured in a straight per-capita formulation, which existed previously,” he said.

“It will unlock financial power for us, fiscal power for us as premiers, but more importantly, it will unlock program funding for Atlantic Canadians so that we can deliver that modernized health-care system largely into the future.”

While all premiers had been hoping to see more money in the deal from the federal government, they have each acknowledged that more investments alone will not solve the problems in the health-care system, said New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs.

“The idea of finding better practices to do the same thing only with better results is paramount for health care because we’ve been funding health care heavily and we still will keep funding health care heavily,” Higgs said.

“But the (federal) transfer payments that we saw only amounted to about three- or four per cent of our total budget,” he added, noting that health costs take up about a third of New Brunswick’s total $3.6 billion budget.

“There’s a recognition that we’ve all got to get better at managing taxpayer dollars in the health-care system. And I think we can do that.”

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Ottawa’s bilateral agreements with all provinces and territories will be tailored to each region’s specific needs, but focused on four key areas: improving access to family medicine and primary care; addressing health worker shortages; improving access to mental health and substance use treatment and modernizing the health system through improved collection and sharing of health data.

To access these new funding streams, provinces and territories will have to agree to spend the money on measures that support these priority areas and they will be required to develop action plans that describe how funds will be spent and progress measured.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said Ottawa’s priorities mirror the health-care needs in his province, and stressed his government has been heavily investing in health care and will continue to do so.

“We’re on the same page, we have the same priorities as the federal government,” he said.

“Everybody wants the same thing. That’s more access to health care for Nova Scotians and Canadians.”

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