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Alberta

Insurance rate increases absolutely unacceptable: NDP Critic for Service Alberta

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This post was submitted by Jon Carson, NDP MLA for Edmonton-West Henday, Opposition Critic for Service Alberta

Thirty per cent.

That’s how much auto insurance rates skyrocketed by for some Albertans at the end of this year, after Premier Jason Kenney and the UCP removed the five per cent cap on rate increases that our NDP government brought in, taking a “no limit” approach to how much insurance companies could actually raise rates.

The jump was immediate.

Albertans saw a wave of premium increases bordering on price gouging. Over 90% of car insurance companies filed for rate increases as soon as the cap was lifted, and rushed to bill drivers as soon as they could. Of the companies that received approved rate changes, the increases ranged from 4.9 per cent to an eye-popping 29.8 per cent.

It was a nice gift from Jason Kenney, who already slammed families for hundreds of dollars of new costs in his fall budget, including hikes to income tax, property tax, as well as more in school fees, prescription drugs and college tuition.

As usual, Finance Minister Travis Toews trotted out the UCP’s one-trick pony and blamed the NDP, claiming that insurance companies were set to pack their bags and flee the province if he didn’t let them jack up premiums beyond five per cent.

The lobbying effort came out in full force. The brokers, the insurance companies, and the Insurance Bureau of Canada are working overtime to sell quite the sob story: a massive spike in claims costs, not enough options for drivers, etc, etc. It’s tough times for the poor, little ol’ car insurance company.

What a load. These are some of the biggest and most profitable companies in Canada, and they simply want back the power they had to jack up premiums hand over fist.

The truth is that claims costs over the past few years are level, a fact that’s supported by the Insurance Bureau of Canada‘s own data. In fact, an actuarial analysis by Fair Alberta Injury Regulators, an organization made up of concerned Albertans, doctors and legal experts, found that injury payouts have stabilized in the last few years, and even started to dip in 2019. Their actuary specifically found evidence that claims are “not skyrocketing.”

This is further supported by the Alberta Superintendent of Insurance, responsible for all regulatory oversight of insurers operating in Alberta with a specific duty to ensure that insurance companies treat Albertans fairly. In his annual report for 2018, he found on average that the claims ratio for car insurance was 80 per cent across all companies in Alberta. Not the 120 per cent figure the insurance companies trot out on TV.

And while the UCP Government continues to claim they have documents to prove the cap made the car insurance industry unsustainable, they haven’t provided a single piece of paper showing any of these companies would bail if they could–GASP–only raise premiums five per cent every year.

So why remove the cap? Well, in politics, it’s who you know. And Jason Kenney knows an awful lot of people in the insurance industry. Namely, his former chief of staff and campaign director Nick Koolsbergen, who was hired to lobby the Premier on behalf of the car insurance industry just last year. He has Kenney’s cell phone number.

Sounds like a good guy to have on your side… if you’re a car insurance company.

The fact is, these companies turn a profit of tens of millions of dollars each year. They’re used to having carte blanche in Alberta, and they want it back.

Under the thinly-veiled guise of “red tape reduction”, the UCP has struck a panel looking at more regulatory changes that the insurance lobby itself has said “could also change the rate regulation framework that governs how insurers set premiums.”

If costs are going to go up even more, who will Jason Kenney look out for? His friends and interests in big insurance? Or everyday Albertans driving to work?

Knowing Jason Kenney, Albertans should brace for impact.

Jon Carson is the MLA for Edmonton-West Henday and the Alberta NDP Opposition Critic for Service Alberta.

Alberta

Province freezes funds for doctors and launches process to work out a new funding formula

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New physician funding framework announce

Alberta will maintain physician funding at $5.4 billion, the highest level ever, and implement its final offer to the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) to avoid $2 billion in cost overruns.

Existing terms will remain in place until March 31, 2020. A new funding framework will then be introduced, in a multi-year process that will require consultation with the AMA at all stages. The new framework will make changes proposed during negotiations to prevent cost overruns, align benefit programs and administrative fees with those of comparable provinces, and improve services for patients.

The eleven consultation proposals will also be implemented on March 31. This includes phasing in changes to complex modifiers, reducing the rate physicians can charge for this billing code to $9 from $18, for a period of one year before the code is removed in 2021-22. In summer 2020, at the direction of the Minister of Health, the Government of Alberta will also introduce a new alternative relationship plan (ARP) with built-in transition benefits to encourage physicians to move from fee-for-service to a three-year contract.

“Our province is facing cost overruns of $2 billion in the next three years due solely to physician compensation. If left unaddressed, these costs would impede efforts to reduce surgical wait times, improve mental health and addiction services, and expand the number of continuing care beds. Despite repeated efforts, the AMA failed to put forward alternatives that would hold the line on physician compensation. The new framework announced today will prevent cost overruns, allow our province to improve services for patients, and still ensure that Alberta’s doctors are amongst the highest paid physicians in all of Canada.”

Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health

Background

  • The new funding framework will maintain government’s current level of spending on physicians at $5.4 billion.
  • The new funding framework avoids anticipated cost overruns of $2 billion over the next three years.
  • Alberta has been spending more on physician salaries than other provinces, yet most of its health outcomes are below national averages.
  • A doctor in Alberta earns approximately $90,000 more than a doctor in Ontario and physicians’ fees have almost tripled since 2002.

Elements of the new funding framework

  • Changes to Alberta’s complex modifier billing system. The rate physicians are able to charge for complex modifiers will be reduced to $9 from $18 for a period of one year before this billing code is removed in 2021-22. Once the new framework is fully phased in, physicians will be able to bill an additional fee after spending 25 minutes with a complex patient case. Alberta remains the only province in Canada that allows for a top-up payment for complex visits.
  • Removal of the comprehensive annual care plan from the list of insured services. Currently, physicians can also bill for a similar consultation called a comprehensive annual visit. No other province in Canada compensates physicians twice for annual care consultation.
  • Implementation of a new daily cap, modelled after a cap in place in British Columbia, of 65 patients per day. Large patient loads can contribute to physician burnout and may compromise patient safety and quality of care.
  • Removing physician overhead subsidies from all hospital-based services. Physicians who work in AHS facilities should not be billing for overhead costs that their community physician colleagues face, such as leases, hiring staff and purchasing equipment.
  • Ending of clinical payments, or stipends, by AHS to physicians. This change ends duplication of payments to contracted physicians.

Timeline

  • In September 2019, government provided notice to the AMA that it intended to begin negotiations on the AMA Agreement. The notification provided time for the AMA to prepare its proposals.
  • In November 2019, negotiations began with the AMA to reach a new agreement; government began consultations on 11 proposed changes to the schedule of medical benefits (SOMB, or “insured services”).
  • In January 2020, negotiations and consultations proceeded with no agreement reached. Mediation, on both the negotiation and consultation proposals, began January 31 and continued into February.
  • The parties were not able to reach an agreement during mediation.
  • Government will implement its final offer from the negotiating table, including the 11 consultation proposals, on March 31.
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Alberta

New online ways to watch the machinations of Government beginning with the Throne Speech Feb. 25th

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Second session of 30th Legislature opens with Throne Speech and new ways to watch oral question period

February 20, 2020

Albertans can now watch Oral Question Period (OQP) on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

Starting with the Throne Speech on February 25 and continuing with OQP at 1:30 p.m. throughout session, proceedings will be broadcast on the Legislative Assembly of Alberta’s social media channels.

“Albertans have a vested interest in the proceedings that take place in the Legislative Assembly Chamber as the important decisions made here can affect their daily lives,” said Honourable Nathan Cooper, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. “I am pleased that Albertans have even more options for viewing the proceedings.”

Gavel-to-gavel coverage continues on Assembly TV and Assembly Online.

Tune in to your preferred viewing platform at 3 p.m. on February 25 as Alberta’s Lieutenant Governor, Her Honour the Honourable Lois E. Mitchell, CM, AOE, LLD delivers the Speech from the Throne to commence the Second Session of the 30th Legislature.

The opening day ceremony begins with a 15-gun salute on the south Legislature grounds, followed by an inspection of a quarter guard in the Legislature rotunda. The program will also feature performances by soprano Cara McLeod and the Royal Canadian Artillery Band.

Visit assembly.ab.ca for more information on how to watch the Assembly.

Read more on Todayville Edmonton.

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