Medicare cut sparks spat between Flemming, medical society

The Medicare billing cut and cap introduced in Tuesday's provincial budget has sparked another war of words between the health minister and the New Brunswick Medical Society.

Health minister says group told him to 'Stick it'

Health Minister Ted Flemming is accusing the New Brunswick Medical Society of misrepresenting the views of the province's doctors.

The group's executive is condemning the Alward government's 2013-14 budget, which reduces and freezes the amount doctors can bill Medicare for services.

But Flemming says many doctors he has met across New Brunswick are willing to join pharmacists, nurses and unionized hospital workers in trying to cut health care costs.

"The medical society, which is a small little group here in Fredericton, has, in my judgment, a disconnect with its membership," Flemming said.

Health Minister Ted Flemming says the New Brunswick Medical Society has a disconnect with its membership. (CBC)

"I've had nothing but support and encouragement by doctors in New Brunswicker who are willing to help and do what they can," he said.

"I don't think it's too much to ask someone to have a little bit of a budget, to have some responsible spending, and to be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem," the minister said.

"I go to the medical society, they tell me to 'Stick it.'"

Dr. Robert Desjardins, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, says Flemming "has a very colourful way of speaking," but no one told him to stick it.

Desjardins contends the minister's suggestion the group does not represent the opinions of its 1,600 members is simply a "divide and conquer" strategy.

Doctors angry, frustrated

Flemming is wrong, he said, based on the hundreds of emails the society has received from doctors about the changes.

"They almost unanimously are appalled, and are just shocked, and are very frustrated and very angry," said Desjardins.

Under the 2013-14 budget, funding for doctors who bill Medicare for each service will be cut by $18.8 million to $425 million and capped at that amount for two years.

Medical society CEO Anthony Knight says doctors aren't allowed to turn people away, despite the cap.

"Physicians will have to make a choice whether they work for free or not when the illnesses and the patients continue to come," he said.

In the Legislature, Opposition health critic Don Arseneault argued the government's claim that the cap won't affect patients is not realistic.

"This is the first time in history we have a minister of health who's going to control how many sick people there are in New Brunswick," he said.

The health minister says he's still willing to negotiate with the medical society.

But the group says the government's unilateral move to introduce the Medicare changes while still at the negotiating table with doctors makes it hard to see a "path forward" for the two sides to work together.