Alberta government halts changes to doctors’ pay for complex modifiers

The Alberta government announced Tuesday that changes to physicians’ payments for complex modifiers will not go ahead as planned on March 31.

The changes would have impacted how doctors are compensated for time spent on patient visits and potentially the number of issues a patient could see their doctor about.

Under the previously proposed changes, these fees would mandate more time be spent with patients with complex needs, 25 minutes instead of 15, before an extra fee would kick in. This plan was to be phased in next year.

For this year, the complex modifier was still charged at the 15-minute benchmark, but would pay $9 instead of $18. The Alberta Medical Association, or AMA, says these changes could limit services, lead to physicians focusing on non-complex patients and bankrupt some rural and family offices.

The news came on the same day Alberta announced a public health emergency in light of COVID-19.

“During these unprecedented times, we want to ensure physicians on the front lines can focus solely on providing patient care,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said.

“We’ve heard concerns that this change would result in what has been called ’10-minute medicine.’ While we respectfully disagree with that characterization, we are nevertheless halting this change so that doctors can concentrate on the critical tasks at hand.”

“We appreciate the removal of the complex (time) modifier from Alberta Health’s physician funding framework,” Dr. Christine Molnar, president of the Alberta Medical Association, said.

“This is a significant step in supporting patients and physicians. There is still work to be done. We will work in any venue to advance patient care and to reach a formal agreement between physicians and Alberta Health.”

Hundreds of physicians are urging the Alberta government to not only put upcoming contract changes on hold but also take further steps to help prevent the novel coronavirus pandemic from overwhelming the province’s health-care system.

A letter written by Dr. Lana Myroniuk, a family doctor in Edmonton, on behalf of 558 other Alberta physicians was sent to Premier Jason Kenney, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, provincial Health Minister Tyler Shandro and other members of the Alberta legislature on Sunday night.

Myroniuk said enacting the phone call billing code and pledging not to lay off nurses was a good start, but more needs to be done. The doctors called on the province to do the following four things:

The province said a physician compensation advisory committee will be created to examine all aspects of the physician services funding model and make recommendations supporting the delivery of health services to Albertans.

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