Flemming will 'ferret out' any medicare overbilling

Health Minister Ted Flemming is promising to examine whether doctors are overbilling medicare following a report from the province's auditor general.

Health minister says he will look into questions raised by Auditor General Kim MacPherson

The New Brunswick Medical Society says the auditor general's report into overbilling had "an absense of context" and any problems are a result of outdated technology 2:21

Health Minister Ted Flemming is promising to examine whether doctors in the province are overbilling medicare following a report from the province’s auditor general.

Auditor General Kim MacPherson's report found that some doctors are billing both medicare and WorkSafeNB.

The report also found that more than a dozen doctors, including an ophthalmologist and several radiologists billed for more than $1 million each and she pointed out there were no deterrents to wrongful billing.

The New Brunswick Medical Society, which represents physicians, called the report "one-sided" and indicated it "lacked context." Any problems, the doctors’ group said, were the fault of the province’s out-dated billing system.

But the health minister, who has been talking tough about sustainability of health-care funding, promised during question period on Wednesday he would investigate the auditor general’s findings.

"I would also say that we do not want to smear the medical profession by jumping to conclusions which are not true. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty," Flemming said.

"I will say this. If there is double-billing and if there are improper actions, this minister of health will ferret them out. I will find them and make sure that the people of New Brunswick get value for their money. When the doctors find out that I am on their path, they are not going to like it."

The auditor general’s report showed how some physicians were billing well above average for others in their profession.

One ophthalmologist received nearly $1.7 million, which is almost $1 million more than the average for that specialty.

The top-billing general practitioner was paid $1.3 million compared to the average $255,000 for these doctors.

MacPherson recommended the department identify which doctors were billing medicare at a rate higher than the average of their specialty and then review those files "to determine reasonableness." She said if any issues were discovered, those doctors should be audited.

The province’s chief financial watchdog also said the government should take "immediate action" that would require radiologists to submit information on patients, diagnosis and treatment with their bills.

She also recommended the provincial government make the billing figures for doctors available to the public.

Dr. Brian Goldman, a CBC medical commentator, said the gross billing figures provided by the auditor general do not provide important context.

"What kind of practice do they have. How many patients do they see, what kinds of services do they perform and most important what's their overhead," he said.

Goldman said doctors in Canada spend on average 40 percent of those earnings on overhead, such as leases, staff, and equipment.