Hey, Hi, Hello!
Things are getting dicey here in Alberta lately, to such a degree that this past week saw the Alberta Medical Association file a lawsuit against the Government of Alberta claiming more than $250 Million in damages has already been incurred due to the Governments decision to tear up their contract with healthcare workers in February. The government followed up this unprecedented move by imposing healthcare cuts across the board and making sweeping changes to physicians billing codes which went into effect on April 1st, despite calls to walk back the planned cuts in the face of the COVID 19 pandemic.
AMA president Dr. Christine Molnar has made it clear that the government has left the AMA with few alternatives and is quoted as saying “We think that we’ve reached an impasse with the government, our relationship has never been at a lower point. It’s very important that there’s a method to resolve disputes between the government and Alberta Physicians, it’s unavoidable that there will be disputes. There needs to be a remedy and method to dissolve those disputes and that would be determined by a negotiated agreement, and if that fails, by binding arbitration with a third party, and that is what we’re seeking to achieve.”
The central argument of the suit is that the UCP has violated the charter rights of Alberta Physicians by ripping up their agreement with the AMA and imposing unilateral changes to physician compensation. The AMA is the exclusive bargaining representative for physicians in the province and by law Alberta’s doctors must have access to an independent, third party resolution process. These elements are necessary to protect meaningful collective bargaining, which is protected by our constitutional right to freedom of association.
Patrick Nugent, the Lawyer representing the doctors is quoted as saying that “The government has attacked the core of freedom of association, has affected the AMA’s status as exclusive representative and it has crippled the AMA’s ability to meaningfully bargain on behalf of physicians. So, in the current environment with no access to arbitration as a backstop the AMA has essentially been reduced to collective begging, not collective bargaining, and we say in the claim these are fundamental attacks on freedom of association.”
It is important to note that the AMA agreement was terminated by the Minister of Health on February 20th, after the AMA had agreed, in good faith, to extend the 90 day negotiating period. 9 days before the AMA would have been entitled to serve formal notice of Arbitration and 1 day prior to the AMA’s expressed intention to submit a proposal to the Minister. If the AMA hadn’t agreed to extend the negotiation period, they could have served the formal notice on February 11th. In a statement on the AMA website Dr. Molnar, President of the AMA says “The refusal to bring their information to an arbitrator shows disrespect to physicians and a lack of faith in their own information.”
Another matter of importance here is the fact that Bill 21, which was touted as a bill to protect patients from sexual abuse, gave the government the power to terminate the agreement, which the AMA tried to warn us about back when the UCP introduced the bill last fall. The Bill actually grants a whole host of outrageous powers to the health minister, including the ability to tell physicians where they can and cannot provide care and is based on an outdated and ineffective management tool that failed in BC, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. It has been noted that a billing number restriction system, which Shandro would like to impose here, is ineffective because it restricts the number of physicians practicing and restricts their mobility and recruitment. It has been credited with a net loss of physicians in rural areas and created physician shortages, costly legal battles and expensive recruitment campaigns in the provinces where it was tried and deemed a failure.
I am unsure how disrespecting and hamstringing an organization that has represented physicians and patients in Alberta for 114 years is meant to help Albertans, but I think it’s pretty clear that it makes undermining our public healthcare as a means to justify privatizing our public services easier.