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Province pushes unilateral deal for doctors’ salaries

Alberta Minister of Health Fred Horne

Alberta is unilaterally setting doctors' fees after negotiations between the province and the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) stalled.

The AMA is warning the abrupt move will ultimately include cuts to some fees and cost Alberta doctors their status as the best paid in Canada.

Health Minister Fred Horne made the announcement on Friday, saying his best and final offer was refused.

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After 20 months of fruitless negotiations, Alberta will implement that final offer on its own. The province said it amounts to an overall raise – cost-of-living adjustments over the next three years, as well as a lump-sum payment of 2.5 per cent of the previous year's billings.

"It's very clear to me that we're at an impasse in terms of these negotiations, so I have a responsibility on behalf of Albertans and the health system to move ahead," Mr. Horne said.

Just days ago, Ontario doctors signed a deal with their province that would freeze their pay for two years after Premier Dalton McGuinty backed down on a pledge to slash some fees.

Alberta's pay scheme includes no raises for the past two years, in which doctors have been without a contract, and will cut two "significant" programs by 2014, including one meant to retain doctors, the AMA said. Because of the program cuts, some doctors' incomes could drop by $30,000, the AMA warned.

"I think that we have learned that this is not a fair process, and this was a unilateral imposition on us," AMA president Michael Giuffre said, adding that Alberta's doctors are "clearly not going to be paid the highest any longer."

An AMA counterproposal on Nov. 2 was rejected by the province, which said it was "significantly higher" than it could pay. Doctors' compensation makes up 20.7 per cent of Alberta's $16.6-billion health budget.

Nationally, doctors' pay makes up 14.4 per cent of spending, according to research by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

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The CIHI has also reported that Alberta's family doctors and specialists are, on average, Canada's best paid, nearly 30 per cent above the national average.

Alberta's new unilateral deal, running through 2016, will add about $463-million to provincial costs over the next four years.

Dr. Giuffre said he expects at least $80-million in rollbacks on fees paid annually to specialists. Mr. Horne said no decision has been made on this.

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