PEI

Province pushes for cost savings in new health-care deals

The P.E.I. government is pushing too hard to try to achieve cost savings in negotiations with Island health-care providers, says the Official Opposition.

Doctor, pharmacist, long-term care contracts all under negotiation

Doctors, nurses and members of Alberta's three dozen regulated health professions face new rules when bill 21 comes into effect April 1. The legislation is designed to make penalties for findings of sexual misconduct and abuse more consistent. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The P.E.I. government is pushing too hard to try to achieve cost savings in negotiations with Island health-care providers, says the Official Opposition.

Agreements with Island doctors, pharmacists and long-term care facilities are all currently under negotiation.

Previous agreements with all three groups have expired. In the case of Island doctors, the province's last deal with the PEI Medical Society expired March 31, 2015.

Lawyer helping with negotiations

Health Minister Robert Henderson has confirmed the province had contracted with McInnes Cooper to provide a lawyer to join government's negotiating team.

Thursday in the legislature, Opposition health critic James Aylward asked how much that is costing taxpayers.

It's certainly got to be putting some stress on the medical profession, as far as not knowing what's happening moving forward, where the contract is and why it's taking so long.– Health critic James Aylward

"The negotiations alone for the master agreement with doctors has now dragged on for a long 18 months and counting, nowhere close to being completed," Aylward said. "Why is this taking so long, and how much has the province spent to date in legal fees on this project alone?"

Aylward suggested government was looking for $25 million in cost savings on the three deals. Henderson didn't dispute the figure.

"We're always trying to be prudent in managing the budget that I have in my department," Henderson said. "We're always trying to look at where we can find savings, where we can get good, effective expenditures for the value that we return back."

'High dispensing fees'

Aylward said the province wants to cut the dispensing fee paid to Island pharmacists by 18 per cent.

He said if that happens, "I'm being told by these pharmacists that we're going to start to see pharmacies in rural parts of Prince Edward Island potentially closing their doors. We're going to see staff members, pharmacists and frontline staff laid off ... and reduced hours as well."

Henderson countered by saying, "The reality is that we have relatively high dispensing fees for some of our products for the programs that we offer at pharmacies. And we just want to make that as fair as we possibly can."

Harder to retain doctors?

Aylward also suggested the length of negotiations with the PEI Medical Society could be making it harder for the province to retain doctors, referring to recent media stories about doctors who are leaving.

"It's certainly got to be putting some stress on the medical profession, as far as not knowing what's happening moving forward, where the contract is and why it's taking so long."

Henderson said some doctors might have received better offers from other jurisdictions, but said P.E.I. isn't the only province currently without a signed agreement with its physicians.

"The [previous] agreement that's still in place still exists," he said. "We're still compensating physicians equitably, and will continue to do that until we get another arrangement."

now