Alberta doctors group warns of rural 'health crisis' if government changes aren't reconsidered
CALGARY -- A group of rural Alberta doctors are again urging the provincial government to reconsider billing changes that they say create “an avoidable health crisis.”
The Alberta Medical Association (AMA) and several doctors have repeatedly said the changes imposed by the province on April 1 would force hundreds of clinics across Alberta to reduce staff or close their doors.
“This is something that can be prevented,” said Dr. Samantha Myhr, a physician from Pincher Creek.
“We want to ask the government to come back to the table with the AMA and come up with an agreement that is not going to be detrimental to rural health care.”
The Rural Sustainability Group says it surveyed 300 rural physicians and found that more than half would decrease their hospital-based services by July.
“We are finding that many, many communities are going to be affected,” Dr. Myhr said, adding they’ve heard at least 44 communities will be facing reduced service in the coming weeks.
A spokesperson for health minister Tyler Shandro said Alberta "is preparing to announce changes to support rural physicians very soon."
"Rural communities face longstanding challenges in recruiting and retaining physicians, and the pandemic has made those challenges even greater," said spokesperson Steve Buick.
The group’s warning comes the week after 10 of the 11 doctors serving Lac La Biche in Northern Alberta area signed a letter to announce they would resign their hospital privileges at the end of July.
“We regret to inform you that due to recent government funding changes to our Schedule of Medical Benefit Claim fees, we have been obliged to restructure our medical practice to cope with the loss of income,” read the April 15th letter.
The AMA also launched a lawsuit against the province, saying the government pushed through changes in the way doctors can bill for their services.
The lawsuit seeks over $255 million in damages for what the AMA says was a breach of physicians’ rights and freedoms.