Alberta doctors see slight drop in pay to fall behind Saskatchewan

EDMONTON – Alberta doctors are now the third best paid in Canada, slipping one place in the last year after experiencing their first drop in earnings in at least a decade, a new national study has found.

On average, Alberta physicians received gross income of $348,221 in 2012-13, a dip of about half a per cent from the previous year. That was enough to fall well behind their counterparts in neighbouring Saskatchewan, whose average payments shot up almost seven per cent to $365,511.

Ontario doctors continued to lead to the country with average earnings of $370,731.

The numbers come from the new National Physician Database, an annual report compiled by the Canadian Institute for Health Information that examines public spending on doctors around the country.

The institute calculated that Alberta made $2.7 billion in payments to its doctors in 2012-13. That spending was a five-per-cent jump from the previous year, yet doctors received lower average payments, in part because they had to share the available funds with more colleagues.

The institute reported that almost 400 physicians joined the Alberta workforce last year, bringing the total to 7,752.

The trend was similar across the country, where physician counts ballooned and average payments flattened out, the institute found.

The 2012-13 year was also one in which the Alberta government and physicians were locked in a bitter dispute over pay. The two sides eventually agreed on a seven-year deal that provides three years of zero pay increases, followed by two years of 2.5-per-cent increases and two years of cost of living adjustments.

Physician advocacy groups warn that the average payment figures offered by the institute can be misleading, since how much each doctor earns is subject to a number of complex factors such as location and area of specialty.

Most doctors have significant overhead costs for running an office, which can account for anywhere from 20 to 60 per cent of a physician’s gross income, the groups said.

In general, family physicians, psychiatrists and pediatricians tended to be among the lowest earners of their profession in Alberta, while ophthalmologists, dermatologists, cardiovascular surgeons and urologists were among the highest.

The vast majority of payments in Alberta continued to be made through the fee-for-service system, in which doctors receive a set payment for performing a specific service such as a basic checkup, cataract surgery or liver transplant.

Alberta continued to lead the country in using fee-for-service in 2012-13, while other provinces have been increasingly moving to Alternative Payment Plans. Typically, these plans offer a block of funding to a physician group to provide a “basket� of services to a particular population.

kgerein@edmontonjournal.com

Average gross payments to physicians, 2012-13:

Ontario: $370,731 (down 1.3 per cent)
Saskatchewan: $365,511 (up 6.6 per cent)
Alberta: $348,221 (down 0.4 per cent)
Manitoba: $318,256 (down 2.1 per cent)
Quebec: $279,206 (up four per cent)
Newfoundland and Labrador: $276,508 (up one per cent)
New Brunswick: $275,931 (up 2.6 per cent)
British Columbia: $271,145 (down 1.2 per cent)
Nova Scotia: $261,422 (up 1.3 per cent)
Prince Edward Island: No data
National average: $328,067 (up 0.3 per cent)

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