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Some B.C. doctors shorted 'significant' amount on paycheques

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The Ministry of Health has confirmed some B.C. doctors were significantly underpaid on their latest paycheque, at a time physicians are shuttering their practices as they struggle to cover costs under an outdated payment model.

On Wednesday evening, family doctors began contacting CTV News to raise the alarm that they’d been significantly underpaid on their August paycheques and by Thursday afternoon, the province had acknowledged something had gone wrong and would be fixed.

“Due to a system programming error, a larger than usual number of Medical Services Plan claims billed by family physicians were temporarily held…resulting in a significant reduction in payment for certain practitioners,” wrote a Health Ministry spokesperson. “The claims that were previously held incorrectly should be released by the system and paid on the September 15, 2022, payment.”

The spokesperson added that the issue was “quickly identified and corrected” and steps were taken to prevent the same issue in the future, but family doctors were still in the dark – and increasingly frustrated.

The ministry did not specify how much doctors were shorted, but sources tell CTV News the reported shortfalls range from 15 to 40 per cent, depending on the physician

“At a time when doctors are struggling to keep their offices open and pay their rent which was due today, pay taxes that are due in two weeks – to have that money withheld and not know when you're going to get it will be the straw that breaks some camels' backs,” said Dr. Anna Wolak, a family doctor in Vancouver. “It’s affecting a lot of physicians.”

Dr. Carllin Man, who has a family practice in New Westminster and fills in as a locum in Alberta, saw 20 per cent less than what he’d billed for.

“Usually it’s a trivial amount, maybe one or two per cent,” he said. “I think a lot of family doctors are really at their end of their wit’s end in terms of keeping offices running, they’re burnt out and we’re feeling we haven't been valued for a long time.”

A STARK CONTRAST TO THE PRIVATE SECTOR

The struggle for timely pay on work already provided to the public stands in start contrast to news from the private sector, where Telus Health announced the $2.3 billion takeover of extended benefits company LifeWorks.

The acquisition has boosted Telus Health’s workforce to 10,000 employees worldwide, and one of its top executives sees a bright future for the company in the health-care space, which they see as serving the public good.

“Our focus here is the employer, the employer is the payer and providing a full suite of services to employers and their employees to deliver better (health) outcomes,” said chief operating officer Michael Dingle, in a one-on-one interview from Toronto. “I think the onus is increasing on the employers, who are understanding their place in the delivery of care and the critical component of being a good employer is to have employees that are healthy and well.”

CTV News raised concerns that Telus is poaching doctors already in short supply, removing them from the public system, but Dingle claims most of the physicians work for the company on a part-time basis, insisting they are not competing with public health-care.

“Our interest is in being entirely supportive of the health-care systems we operate within and around,” he said. “I think this is an increase in supply when we have a demand issue and I think that's affording solutions.”

EASIER WORK VERSUS JOB SATISFACTION

For months, doctors and public health-care advocates have complained to CTV News that the virtual care Telus Health officer free to patients under the MSP model is detrimental to the system, since physical exams and tests, which take much longer, are increasingly burdened onto general practitioners in the public system.

Telus is currently undergoing a review by B.C.’s Medical Services Commission into it’s deluxe LifePlus program, which charges upwards of $3,500 a year for full checkups and access to certain specialists, among other perks. Dingle wouldn’t discuss the status of that review and the Ministry of Health says the commission is “actively working on the next steps.”

Until now, most family doctors have been motivated to stay for their long-term relationships with patients and the satisfaction of seeing children they treated grow up and have children of their own, but the landscape is changing. Now the August payment issues have many wondering whether the discrepancies are even larger and longer-term than they’d thought.

“Maybe we didn’t realize it because we’ve been so busy,” said Wolak.

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