Alberta doctors’ billings to be made public within next two months

September 11, 2020
Alberta doctors' billings to be made public within next two months

Albertans will soon be able to see how much their doctor bills the provincial government, but some physicians argue the billing totals won’t provide enough context.

The province will make their gross fee-for-service payments to physicians public within the next 60 days.

Physician payment data to be published will be from the last three fiscal years, dating back to 2017-18, said Steve Buick, press secretary to Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

The move would effectively create a sunshine list, with doctor’s names and payments to be posted online for the public to see, similar to lists already published for high-paid public service employees.

B.C., Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador already disclose physician compensation.

But Alberta’s website on physician pay — which is already being developed — will have “the most comprehensive disclosure of physician payments in Canada,” Buick said in an email to CBC News on Thursday.

Alberta’s sunshine list will include the gross payments to doctors but also “items such as the number of patients served,” Buick wrote. 

The province may also disclose locations where the doctors performed the medical services and the total number of days during the fiscal year on which the physician provided the insured medical services, according to an order-in-council issued Thursday. 

Some physicians have raised concerns about public disclosure of their billings because they say the figures don’t represent their take-home pay. 

Alberta Medical Association (AMA) officials want the province to include overhead costs in the sunshine list. 
AMA President Dr. Christine P. Molnar says the sunshine list won’t capture the overhead costs doctors have to pay. (Submitted)

Doctors pay for staff, clinics, liability insurance and equipment out of their fee-for-service billings, costs that are not accounted for in their billings. 

“It’s very important that people understand what those numbers mean,” said Dr. Christine Molnar, AMA president. 

“I think [doctors] are OK with that as long as Albertans, in general, understand that’s not what [doctors] put in [their] pocket. Those dollars are a business revenue, they’re not what [they] take home. That’s really important.”

Buick said the province won’t disclose physicians’ overhead costs on the provincial website.

He said the province recognizes that payments to physicians are not the same as take-home income and that the website will specify that the numbers are gross payments.  

Doctor pay has been a point of discussion for several months in the province. 

Shandro first threatened to make pay disclosure mandatory in July following the release of a survey from the AMA suggesting 42 per cent of Alberta doctors are planning to leave the province due to changes in how they are paid.

In response, Shandro denied that any exodus of doctors was imminent and told the AMA to “stop playing games.” 

He had said Albertans should “know the facts” about how Alberta doctors are compensated compared to their Canadian counterparts. 

Some doctors will be able to apply for an exemption from the sunshine list, which could allow them to not have their name disclosed for safety reasons.

“It’s one thing if you’re one physician in a thousand in a major urban centre and you’re identified,” Molnar said. 

“It’s quite another thing if you’re a rural or remote physician and all of a sudden now, you’re very visible and not anonymous at all and you may become the target of unwanted attention.”

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