Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Feds cut fees paid to northern doctors

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OTTAWA -- Several doctors who fly to northern reserves to provide regular access to health care will see their fees cut nearly 10 per cent by the federal government this year.

In a letter to Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton, an aide to Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq says the cut comes to bring the fees more in line with how much work the doctors are doing and what their colleagues are earning in the rest of Manitoba.

Health Canada contracts with Manitoba physicians to provide medical care on northern reserves. That includes flying to the communities to see patients as well as reviewing charts, renewing prescriptions and approving care plans suggested by nurses who work full-time in nursing stations on reserves.

These doctors bill the province on a fee-for-service basis, much like other doctors. Health Canada also tops up these fees to compensate for travel.

A Health Canada review found the doctors were being compensated "at an unreasonably high rate" to review charts, so Health Canada cut the chart-review fee by 30 per cent as of April 1.

At the same time, it increased the per diems paid for travel, so the overall pay cut amounts to around 10 per cent.

Ashton said the cut was imposed on the physicians; there was no negotiation or even a simple conversation about it.

"It's an overall cheapening of northern health care," Ashton said.

She said she fears some doctors will simply choose not to do the work anymore, leaving some of Manitoba's least healthy communities with even less access to health care.

Ashton said she heard about the issue because her uncle is one of the physicians affected but said she'd fight for this regardless of who is involved. "The needs in these communities are huge."

She also said she was frustrated at how long it took her to find out information from Aglukkaq's office. She said she called the office repeatedly starting about a month ago.

"I've never had this kind of stonewalling from the government," she said. "I've been told by the minister's office I'd be given an answer the next day four times."

The letter to Ashton was sent Thursday, the same day she contacted the media about the issue.

The cuts will affect seven doctors who contract directly with Health Canada to provide regular services to nursing stations in five communities such as Oxford House, Nelson House and South Indian Lake. Six doctors have already signed the new contract.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 12, 2013 A15

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