Alberta government reaches tentative deal with doctors

The Alberta government said Wednesday it has reached a tentative agreement with the Alberta Medical Association that will improve quality of care and access to health care while slowing the growth of health-care spending.

Deal would help slow growth of health spending, province says

Dr. Carl Nohr, president of the Alberta Medical Association, joined associate Health Minister Brandy Payne at Wednesday's announcement. (CBC)

The Alberta government says it has reached a tentative agreement with the Alberta Medical Association that will improve Albertans' access to health care and quality of care "in a financially sustainable framework."

The tentative deal, reached after months of talks, is a set of amendments to an existing 2011-18 agreement. The AMA will meet with representatives next week on whether to send the deal out to its members for a vote, which could happen by mid-October. 

The agreement proposes the government work with the AMA on alternative payment models such as a "blended capitation system." 

Instead of being paid a fee for each service they perform, doctors would be paid for each patient they see, as long as that patient is enrolled in their practice. 

Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne said that will encourage doctors to spend more time with their patients.

AMA president Dr. Carl Nohr said physicians understand their responsibilities as stewards of the health-care system.

"Managing growth in health-care expenses is in everyone's interest," he said.

The Alberta government is eager to reduce health-care spending which has been increasing by six per cent a year. 

Nohr said the goal is to reduce how often patients use the health-care system. The utilization rate is higher than what can be explained by inflation and population growth, he said.

Payne said reducing that rate doesn't mean Albertans will lose access to their health-care system. 

The government and doctors want to end duplication of tests like MRIs and blood work and make patients files accessible electronically to physicians. 

While Payne said the agreement will reduce health-care spending, she wouldn't say by how much.

The government wants physicians to examine the deal first before releasing those numbers to the public, she said. 

Liberal Leader David Swann, a medical doctor, said he was pleased the government and Alberta Health Services are talking with doctors, but he doesn't see movement toward a sustainable health care system. 

Swann said the limited trial of the blended capitation model is step towards containing costs but he wants it expanded.  He said allowing doctors to spend more time with patients improves health care and makes the system more efficient. 

"(The system) doesn't necessarily need more doctors.," he said. 

"It needs more, I think, appropriate use of resources, and the fee-for-service system does not lend itself to taking the time, understanding the patient in all their context, and finding the right approach to their particular problem."

The two sides have also agreed to start talks on the overall master agreement that were previously scheduled to start in 2017.