- Health Minister Gaétan Barrette says incentive program to be reviewed in fall
Former Quebec health minister Claude Castonguay is calling on Yves Bolduc to resign from government and refund $215,000 in premiums he received for taking on new patients he then subsequently abandoned after he became a minister again.
Bolduc, who was named education minister by Philippe Couillard in the new Liberal government, was the Liberals' health minister between 2008 and 2012.
Nineteen months elapsed between the end of his term as health minister and the beginning of his term as education minister, during which time Bolduc sat as a member of the Opposition.
'I don't understand why the RAMQ is not investigating.' - Réjean Hébert, former health minister
As a general practitioner, he also took on 1,500 new patients during that time.
That patient load entitled him to a premium of between $100 and $200 a person, totalling $215,000, thanks to an incentive program meant to encourage doctors who already work in hospitals, clinics and emergency rooms to take on patients seeking family doctors.
The program has, over the past two years, cost $50 million — about $6 million more than originally forecast.
Bolduc received this premium on top of his doctor and MNA salaries.
Question of ethics
Castonguay, who helped bring Medicare to Quebec under the Jean Lesage government, told CBC News that Bolduc should both resign from the legislature and reimburse the $215,000.
He said there is no way Bolduc could have provided 1,500 patients with appropriate care while also sitting as an MNA.
“He has not acted in a way that is appropriate and he should not be [in the National Assembly],” Castonguay said.
Castonguay wrote a letter to Couillard saying both jobs would have required full-time work.
“I don’t see how an individual can do both jobs at the same time and claim remuneration from both at the same time,” he said.
Castonguay has added his voice to that of another former health minister, Réjean Hébert, who said it was unethical for Bolduc to collect the premiums. Hébert demanded that Bolduc refund the sum.
“He profited from a breach in the system he is all too familiar with. I don’t understand how, in working part time, he could have registered 1,500 patients a year... Most doctors usually register between 100 and 150 new patients, and so Dr. Bolduc’s performance is, at the very least, a matter of discussion. I don’t understand why the RAMQ [Quebec’s provincial health care plan] is not investigating,” Hébert told Radio-Canada.
Bolduc says he 'acted in good faith'
Officials from Quebec’s health insurance board — the RAMQ — say they are reviewing whether the province should have granted bonuses to 20 doctors.
RAMQ spokesman Marc Lortie would not say whether Bolduc is one of the 20 doctors the board is reviewing.
Lortie said that if for any reason a doctor can no longer treat a new patient, up to 50 per cent of the bonus must be reimbursed.
Bolduc released a statement late Monday afternoon inviting Quebec's health insurance board to review his case.
"I have a strong desire to proceed with complete transparency in this file. That is why I am asking RAMQ to go on with the usual verification regarding my medical practice and my compensation," Bolduc's statement said.
"I have always acted in good faith and in accordance to the rules in place, and I agree to make the results of the review public and, if it is the case, to proceed with any adjustment that may be required."
Current Health Minister Gaétan Barrette said Bolduc was within his rights to claim the premium, even if he only served his patients for 19 months, because the minimum amount of time a doctor must hold on to their patients to be eligible is 12 months.
Barrette also said the government had already intended to revisit the incentive program in the coming fall, even before questions were raised about Bolduc's bonus.
The president of Quebec’s federation of general practitioners, Louis Godin, agreed with Barrette, saying Bolduc was legally entitled to the money. However, Godin said it raises ethical questions.
“Should you take on patients knowing that you’re leaving in a year, a year and a half? I’ll let Dr. Bolduc answer that question,” Godin said.