More than 800 doctors sign letter urging Alberta government to postpone health-care revamp

Hundreds of doctors say the Alberta government must put its planned changes to the health-care system on hold as the COVID-19 emergency continues.

'Now is not the time to restructure the system'

Hundreds of doctors say the Alberta government must put its planned changes to the health-care system on hold as the COVID-19 emergency continues. 
More than 800 physicians put their names on an open letter to Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro urging that the UCP government suspend the changes, which are set to take effect on April 1. 
The Alberta government ended its long-standing master agreement with physicians in February.
It expires on March 31 and will be replaced with new rules that many doctors say will be "detrimental" to patients.

"Now is not the time to restructure the system that we understand and intrinsically know how to operate," says the letter.

"COVID-19 is spreading like a wildfire in this province. We are a strong and trusted team who require necessary resources to help us put out this fire." 
Family physician Dr. Laura Lassila says doctors want to stick with the system they know during a time of crisis.

"We are advocating for stability to give us some breathing room so we can focus on the task at hand, which has to be the pandemic right now," said Lassila.

Earlier this month, the government backed off making controversial changes to the way doctors bill the province for longer patient appointments.

Those changes would have altered the "complex modifier" fee structure, resulting in doctors being paid less for longer-than-normal patient consultations.

The government said earlier this month that it will set up a physician compensation advisory committee to examine all aspects of physician services funding.

"Our government will provide whatever resources are needed to protect Albertans in the pandemic. We expect spending on physician services and health care overall to increase significantly this year. I continue to work with the AMA, the negotiating body formally representing physicians," Shandro said in an emailed statement, adding that he recently spoke with the president of the AMA and welcomes any "concrete, specific proposal." 

A spokesperson for the health minister said that on March 23, the government announced doctors would be paid at the same rate for virtual visits as for in-person appointments, and that all valid claims would be paid at the new rate back to March 17.

The spokesperson said doctors are being asked to hold those claims and submit them once the new system is active — it takes a few days to update, and the government is aiming for an activation date of April 1.

With files from Andrew Brown, Sarah Rieger