End of physician incentives comes as agreement begins

HALIFAX: The end of an incentive program for family doctors to expand their practices was criticized by Nova Scotia’s Official Opposition.

Last week, Progressive Conservative health and wellness critic, Karla MacFarlane, asked Minister of Health and Wellness, Antigonish MLA Randy Delorey, to confirm whether or not his government has cancelled an incentive program that encourages physicians to take on patients without family doctors.

“We know that too many Nova Scotians don’t have access to a family doctor,” MacFarlane said. “The minister must clarify if he directed his department to cancel this incentive program.

“Getting rid of it won’t increase physician recruitment or reduce wait times to see a family doctor.”

The PC Caucus said it recently learned that the province may have scrapped this incentive program even though the number of Nova Scotians without family doctors has reached an estimated 50,000 people.

While Premier McNeil once promised a doctor for every Nova Scotian, the Tories claim that the cancellation of a policy encouraging physicians to take on new patients is counterproductive to increasing access to care.

“If this program was indeed cancelled, and without consultations, then we need to know why,” said MacFarlane. “This is another example of the McNeil Liberals’ lack of transparency with the public and lack of urgency in incentivizing physicians to work in our province.”

MacFarlane says that the government needs to take more action on physician recruitment to address the physician shortage and chronic emergency department closures throughout the province. She hopes that the Minister of Health and Wellness will confirm the status of this policy, and tell the public how it plans to reduce the number of Nova Scotians waiting for a family doctor.

Heather Fairbairn, media relations advisor with the Department of Health and Wellness, told The Reporter the incentive was introduced in March 2018 as part of a $39.6 million investment developed with Doctors Nova Scotia to help connect more Nova Scotians with family doctors.

Fairbairn said $6.4 million of that investment was put in a Patient Attachment Incentive Trust, and since, family doctors have received a financial incentive for each new patient they absorbed into their practice. She said more than 54,000 people have been connected to a family practice as a result of this investment.

“This trust was a one-time initiative and will wind down March 1, 2020,” Fairbairn said. “Family doctors will have 90 days after that date to submit their final claims.”

But Fairbairn noted that a new four-year agreement recently reached with Doctors Nova Scotia will see an additional $135 million in compensation and incentives for doctors and specialists.

“Like the March 2018 investment, the new agreement increases compensation and fee codes for family doctors to continue to support recruitment and retention efforts and improve access,” Fairbairn stated. “Through the agreement, family doctors will also become the highest paid in Atlantic Canada.”