EDMONTON -- A newly shared report published by the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) highlights how far apart Alberta’s doctors and the province are when discussing how much doctors are paid. The difference in datasets is another reason why the AMA’s president believes an independent arbitrator is needed to step in to end the dispute between the two sides. 

The 33-page AMA report titled The Economic Realities of Physician Compensation in Alberta was shared with doctors in December and shared publicly this week on social media.

It offers a rebuttal to the government-commissioned MacKinnon Report, which highlighted how physician costs are the second biggest healthcare expense and the average fee-for-service doctor in Alberta earns $413,000, which is $107,000 or 35 per cent higher than doctors in British Columbia, Ontario or Quebec. 

“Unfortunately, this statement has since been repeated, and relied upon to write policy, develop budgets, and shore up other proposals,” the report states.  

The AMA report points out how the 23.3 per cent of Alberta’s healthcare budget spent on doctors is not out of line with other provinces. It also argues that MacKinnon’s analysis was flawed because it relies solely on earnings for fee-for-service doctors, which is much larger in Alberta and doesn’t account for doctors who are being paid through alternative payment plans, which are much smaller in Alberta. 

The AMA’s analysis of data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) shows Alberta doctors earn 11.7 per cent above the national average. 

“We brought those numbers to the negotiation table and it did not seem to be something the government is willing to acknowledge,” AMA President Dr. Christine Molnar said.

“We have different data. We believe the only way to resolve this dispute is with a third party independent arbitrator to look at the data," she added. "And if the government is so convinced they’re correct, I don’t know why they would deny us the right to arbitration.”

Steve Buick, Press Secretary to the Health Minister, said Alberta is spending $5.4 billion on physicians this year and with recent changes to support physicians during the pandemic, the province expects to spend more. 

“Our decisions are based on the best available data and direct comparisons with other provinces; the AMA paper does not change them,” Buick said. He pointed to CIHI data on Alberta’s website showing in 2017-2018, the average Alberta family doctor earned $443,091 -- $28,000 more than those in Quebec and $94,000 more than those in Ontario.

Alberta’s data did not account for doctors paid through alternative payment plans, one of AMA’s criticisms of the MacKinnon report data.

While the province did pause a decision to decrease how much doctors can bill to spend 15 to 25 minutes with a patient and to treat complex patients, several other changes were imposed on doctors April 1. 

The AMA is suing the province for more than $250 million over alleged denial of charter rights during negotiation. Its president said AMA would with withdraw the lawsuit if the province would reconsider its position.    

“If we were given our rights, our rights of association, our charter rights and the right to arbitration, and have our contract restored and negotiate a new contract, yes, absolutely,” Molnar said. “Have our data and their data in front of an arbitrator. I’d do that tomorrow if given the opportunity.”

The province said it is considering the AMA’s recent statement of claim and will respond as appropriate. None of the allegations have been proven in court.