Canadian authorities reach a tentative two-year agreement in physician negotiations

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Competitive fee-for-service increases and dedicated funding to assist in the recruitment and retention of doctors in Alberta highlight a tentative agreement between the Alberta government, the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) and regional health authorities.

This proposed new agreement would provide increases of 4.5 per cent per year from April 1, 2006 to March 31, 2008. Increases to specific fees will be determined through the tri-lateral allocation process.

"This tentative agreement recognizes the critical role that physicians play in the delivery of health care services but it is also a reflection on how this partnership is an important piece of the overall health care agenda," said Dave Hancock, Minister of Alberta Health and Wellness. "Our mutual goal is to provide Albertans with the best possible health care programs and services in the most innovative and effective way."

The largest increases are to the physician services budget, which funds fee-for-service payments and alternative relationship plans. Total funding in these areas will be $1.7 billion in 2006-07 and $2 billion for 2007-08.

"The trilateral relationship, which is unique in Canada, allows the three parties to jointly address complex and difficult situations that continue to emerge," said Dr. G. N. (Gerry) Kiefer, President of the Alberta Medical Association (AMA). "For example, this tentative agreement addresses Alberta's physician shortages with the new Retention Benefit and the Clinical Stabilization Initiative that focuses on under-serviced areas and communities in crisis."

The tentative agreement contains $103.5 million over two years dedicated to three innovative features which focus on retention and recruitment initiatives to help meet the increasing demand for more physicians in Alberta.

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A new retention benefit will recognize physicians for the number of years that they have practiced in Alberta. This will reflect physicians' terms of service in the province.

The unique circumstances of communities under pressure and under-serviced areas will be addressed through the new clinical stabilization initiative. These communities will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. A provincial framework for under-serviced areas is to be finalized by June 2007.

Special funding has been designated to address extraordinary increases in practice costs. Details on how it will be distributed are yet to be finalized.

Primary care initiatives, an innovative approach to offering team-based primary health care, will also receive ongoing support under the tentative deal. Currently, there are 19 Primary Care Networks in the province serving over one-million people. The proposed agreement also commits funding to the continuation of the Physician Office System Program, providing for the continued computerization of physician offices.

"Alberta's economic boom is not without its challenges. This new agreement will help Alberta to address needs in under-serviced areas and communities in crisis as well as address concerns for physicians that have experienced excessive increases in business costs," said Jack Ady, Chair of the Health Boards of Alberta.

The Alberta Medical Association's board is recommending its membership vote for the financial agreement. The ratification process is expected to take seven to eight weeks because of the time it takes to mail the tentative agreement and a ballot to each physician, and then have the ballot returned.

Improving Alberta's health system is part of Premier Ed Stelmach's plan to improve Albertans' quality of life. Other priorities for the government are to: govern with integrity and transparency, manage growth pressures, build a stronger Alberta and provide safe and secure communities.

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