New Brunswick

Removing physician billing numbers a forward step, says former health executive

Ken McGeorge, a former health CEO, says eliminating the physician billing number system removes a barrier in recruiting physicians to New Brunswick.

The current system is an 'obstacle' in recruiting physicians to New Brunswick

Ken McGeorge was the CEO of Region 3 when government introduced the current physician billing number system. (Gary Moore/CBC)

The province's decision to phase out the physician billing number system is a step in the right direction, says longtime health executive Ken McGeorge.

McGeorge was CEO of Region 3 when the system was introduced in 1992.

He said it was originally brought in to save the province money.

"All the provinces and the federal government were really panicked about the rapid growth of health-care costs going at like three-to-four times inflation annually," McGeorge said. 

He said it was a good idea at the time and it was part of broader health-care reforms that included regionalization. 

Bringing in the system was a way for the government to control how many doctors were in the province and where they were located. 

Supply-side economics

McGeorge says the health-care system is supply-side economics: "If you provide it, it will be used," he said.

Government's response to that was to control the situation and introduced the current billing system as a way to reduce the supply to help contain costs, McGeorge said.

"Everything in health care starts with a physician. They order the tests and they admit patients and they do the surgery." 

The system proved to be a challenge for physicians wanting to set up practice in the province. 

Health Minister Ted Flemming announced on Saturday that the province will phase out the physician billing number system. (CBC)

"In any given year, there may be no billing numbers in Fredericton, for instance, and so they either have to go somewhere else in the province or go somewhere else in the country."

McGeorge said the system has been a point of contention for as long as it's been around and doctors have pushed for change for at least a decade. 

"Nothing in health care happens very quickly," McGeorge said.

He figures the system has stayed in place because the government didn't know any other way to control program growth, so the simple answer was to control numbers

McGeorge doesn't know what the new system will look like but said the onus will be on health authorities to plan programs, services and establish the number of physicians they need based on the programs they are going to offer. 

He said government's decision to phase out the current system is a step in the right direction.

"Recruitment of physicians is a very complex thing, but is it enough? It's not at the end of the day but it's certainly a major start."



Gary Moore

CBC News

Gary Moore is a video journalist based in Fredericton.