The provincial government and an organization representing Manitoba’s doctors have brokered a deal that should put to bed a simmering argument over proposed changes to the dispute-resolution process for physician billing.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen dropped the news in a press release Saturday morning, saying the provincial government will bring changes to the Regional Health Authorities Act that will ensure proper billing oversight, accountability and fairness.
"Doctors across Manitoba provide excellent and compassionate care. However, with nearly a billion dollars in taxpayer dollars now at stake, we know there must be better checks and balances in place to ensure every payment made is appropriate," Friesen said.
Bill 10, which would result in sweeping changes to the province’s health-care system, was first introduced into the Manitoba legislature in the spring of 2019, but due to delays from opposition parties, the bill never became law.
The bill was reintroduced in December. If passed into law, it will bring more health-care services and agencies under the umbrella of provincial organization Shared Health.
As originally proposed, Bill 10 would have also resulted in Friesen being able to appoint inspectors to conduct audits of health claims filed by doctors. In cases where proper paperwork couldn’t be provided, the province would then be able to move to recover fees.
That aspect of the legislation drew the ire of Doctors Manitoba, which said it would effectively strip physicians of a fair and transparent dispute process.
The government’s announcement Saturday indicates it has backed off on that point. Friesen said they’ll introduce an amendment that will modify the bill when the legislature resumes sitting in March.
Doctors Manitoba President Dr. L. Fourie Smith said in a written statement they are grateful for the change in course.
"I must recognize the hard work of Doctors Manitoba staff as well as senior public servants in finding a solution for doctors across the province. We are grateful Minister Friesen has made a firm commitment to amend the legislation and restore fairness to the billing audit process," Smith said.
"I want to thank the hundreds and hundreds of doctors who reached out to the premier and their local MLAs to express their concerns regarding Bill 10. This is a deserving outcome for honest and hard-working doctors across Manitoba."
The organization stresses it doesn’t object to the province seeking recompense in situations where physicians make errors in billing, but that doctors should be able to dispute the findings of an audit.
The Conservatives claim oversight for physician billing was significantly scaled back under the former NDP government, alleging it negatively impacted accountability and the efforts to recover funds when mistakes were made.
In 2015, physician billing totalled $741 million, but only $7,000 was found to be an overpayment, Friesen said in his press release, adding there is a need for better checks and balances.
NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara countered that while the announcement is good news for the province’s doctors, the provincial government shouldn’t get much credit.
"The province shouldn’t be commended for that. The province indicated they would back down from that before the election and then reneged on that after. I think we should still be paying attention to the fact this government seems to have a difficult time listening to and consulting with providers," Asagwara said.
"The province indicated they would back off that specific point prior to the election. And then the election comes and goes and all of a sudden it’s back on the table and doctors are having to raise their voices yet again. I think we can be optimistic about the announcement, however very cautiously optimistic given their track record."
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Saturday, January 25, 2020 at 11:02 PM CST: Edited