Dr. Wendy Fortna a family physician at the Hanna Medical Clinic, addressed the Hanna town council at their Mar. 10 meeting on the impact the Alberta Government changes to the Alberta Health Care medical billing system will have on the delivery of health services to the citizens of rural Alberta.
Dr. Fortna noted proposed changes to present billing practices for office and emergency services will reduce the average family physician’s present income by 30 per cent.
Dr. Fortna said this attack on rural physicians is causing anger and outrage in the medical community and will create challenges for rural municipalities in both recruiting and retaining doctors, so medical services in rural communities like Hanna could be negatively impacted.
Dr. Fortna said that in total there are 11 changes proposed by the Government including instating a $100 fee for medical examinations for seniors 75 and over who wish to renew their drivers’ licences.
Another change under the new rules addresses the stipend now paid to the emergency room doctor who is on call.
The new billing system will also require out-of-province patients to be billed upfront instead of continuing with the “good faith” billing to the patient’s home province.
Dr. Fortna advised patients requiring more than 15 minutes time from their physician may be told to book a return appointment.
Dr. Fortna explained that at the present time the doctors at the Hanna Medical Clinic have “no plans for job action. They are not going to reduce services.”
Dr. Fortna acknowledged that the Alberta Government has agreed to sit down again to negotiate a happier settlement, however, the doctors at the Hanna Medical Clinic are not very hopeful.
She continued that cities are affected in different ways than rural Alberta. Dr. Fortna concluded that in spite of the reduction in pay detailed in the new billing system, the Hanna doctors’ expenses are going to remain exactly the same.
The costs of operating the clinic will not change because there are no plans to reduce the number of staff.
However, none of the doctors at the Hanna Clinic wants to do exactly the same work they are doing now for 30 per cent less worth of pay.
Mayor Warwick offered to help with the negotiation between the doctors at the Hanna Clinic and the Alberta Government.
“Politically, that’s our job. That’s what we do,” said Warwick.