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article imageOp-Ed: Alberta — Auditor General-More waste and abuse in Health Services

By Karl Gotthardt     Feb 13, 2013 in Politics
Edmonton - An Alberta Auditor General report highlights poorly documented expenses. The expenses include spending of public moneys on toys, speeding fines, video games, Calgary Flames seasons’ tickets and overpriced hotel rooms and flights.
Call it incompetence, inefficiency or outright fraud or theft, no matter how you put it the system is in dire need of repair. In early August last year Alberta Health Services (AHS) had to reach an agreement with its Chief Financial Officer (CF) to end a contract, even though it was discovered that his expense claims included elaborate dinners, wine selection, and repairs to his personal vehicle. All were authorized expenses to the tune of $350,000 over a three and a half year period. He was also cited for overspending while working as a consultant for the Ontario government.
Alberta's Premier Alison Redford assured Albertans that AHS would be reigned in, but yet again, according to the National Post the Alberta Auditor General (AG) has uncovered poorly documented claims that were paid out with inadequate justification.
The single largest expense was $116,000 for a realtor commission for a relocated employee. One other, who was not the CEO or anyone who directly reported to him, expensed $150,000 in one year, mostly for travelling to conferences.
For the report released Tuesday, auditor general Merwan Saher examined 17 months worth of expenses at Alberta Health Services; he found that the organization claimed $100-million worth of travel expenses and purchase card transactions between April, 2011, and August, 2012.
A sizable chunk of those expenses were submitted without proper receipts or adequate explanation. The audit also found employees failed to prove they were using the most cost-effective options when travelling. The auditor found Alberta Health Services was not monitoring staff spending, either on an individual or overall.
Under the Stelmach government, AHS, which had eight regions was centralized into one board, which was supposed to create efficiencies and cut costs. It did neither. Sheila Weatherill apparently received $1.5 Million in severance when the Alberta Health Services Superboard was created. Go figure and then she was rehired to sit on that board. Does it smell of crony capitalism? You bet.
Alison Redford has blamed everything under the sun for her budget woes, including declining oil prices and physician's pay. In what was considered and Alison in Wonderland pre-election budget at the time, Redford made promises that she couldn't keep. As early as August 2012, she predicted a budget shortfall of $800 million. This has now grown to a $6 billion shortfall, with a budget deficit of $3 billion.
While Redford has signaled that there will be no increase in taxes, she has toyed with reintroducing health care premiums and there will certainly have to be some budget cuts or borrowing if she is to meet her commitments. Redford has indicated that she intends to put a freeze on inflationary cost of living increases in the budget, and is suggesting that programs geared toward doctor retention/attraction and business cost assistance may be eliminated and the funds reallocated. The President of the Alberta Medical Association, R. Michael Giuffre, MD, has written a letter to Ms Redford to address her reckless comments in regards to physician compensation.
In the past several weeks, you have made public comments regarding Alberta’s physicians that are inaccurate and misleading. Doctors find these statements to be a serious hindrance to the facilitated negotiations currently underway between the Government of Alberta and the Alberta Medical Association (AMA).
The intent of this letter is to provide accurate information about the funding of medical practices in Alberta, in hopes that further public misstatements will be prevented.
You have been quoted numerous times saying that “doctor pay comprises 8.5% of the Provincial Budget.” This is not “doctor pay”; it represents funding which operates every physician’s practice across the entire province. Those practices employ thousands of Albertans and treat more than three million patients annually.
The total cost of care provided by medical practices is based upon the number of patients who require care. When it comes to hours worked, Alberta doctors are among the hardest working in Canada according to the 2010 National Physician Survey. Our physicians average nearly 54 hours a week in service to our patients.
Recently, you stated that if doctors receive any more compensation, your government would have no choice but to re-introduce health care premiums to pay for it. This contention is completely out of proportion and incorrect. Re-introduction of health care premiums would provide the government with an estimated $1 billion in revenue; a 1% increase in fees paid to physicians’ practices would cost the government $25-30 million.
The Wildrose Party's Danielle Smith issued a statement on the AG report, which said that the PC government needs to be held accountable for avoiding the spirit of the law for their fiscal updates.
The Report of the Auditor General released today shows that in the $100 million dollars of expenses listed in the 17 months examined by the AG that AHS does not require business reason for expenses for purchasing card transactions and there is little accountability within AHS to ensure expenses remain cost effective.
“We’ve known for a long time that expenses within AHS have been inappropriate and need to be fixed. That’s why we’ve called for the expenses of all executives, of all the health regions dating back to 2008 to released by the government,” Wildrose Official Opposition Leader Danielle Smith said. “These inappropriate expenses need to be exposed, eradicated and fixed so limited health dollars can flow to patients and not government expense accounts.”
Based on the abuses revealed in August 2012 and Tuesday's AG report, it is evident that the Alberta government needs to bring abuses in the AHS under control. Premier Redford can't continue to blame others for her self-inflicted wounds and budget woes.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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