Federal government reverses changes to military health-care reimbursements

The federal government has “paused” a decision about military health-care payments that would have cost Albertans an estimated $2 million this year.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro speaks on the recent federal cuts to health care for members of the Canadian Armed Forces, at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, October 9, 2019.

The federal government has “paused” a decision about military health-care payments that would have cost Albertans an estimated $2 million this year.

In October, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro called on the federal government to reverse a May decision to change how the Department of National Defence (DND) reimburses provincial health-care providers for services to members of the military.

At the time, he said the military had ceased paying Alberta Health Services and doctors the full cost of some health-care services. Shandro gave the example of a $1,400 procedure where the military was paying $200.

The military is responsible for members’ medical care, much of which is provided through its own health-care workers. When an armed forces member visits a publicly insured doctor or has surgery in a civilian hospital, they bill the military, which reimburses them.

They bill the military at the same rate as if the patient was visiting from out of province.

In October, former Edmonton-Centre Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault said the provinces were billing the military more than it would charge for the same care to other citizens, which was unfair. Shandro refutes this.

The change to payments was anticipated to save the military about $24 million a year.

Shandro had said the move was disrespectful to military personnel.

Both the Alberta and federal governments said care to military members was never interrupted.

Changes reversed in response to Ontario and Quebec governments

Last summer, the governments of Ontario and Quebec told the federal government it had concerns about the reimbursement rate changes, said Maj.  Vincent Bouchard, public affairs officer for the Canadian Forces Health Services Group, in a Friday email.

Discussions with those two provinces led the military to better understand the implications on some hospitals and revert back to previous reimbursement rates, he said.

“This did create some difficulties for some hospitals as they had insufficient notice to adjust their annual budgets,” Bouchard said.

Although Bouchard said the federal government had given provinces two months’ advance notice about the change, the Alberta government said it wasn’t informed until June 10. Albertans elected a United Conservative Party government on April 16, usurping the NDP government.

The federal government notified provinces it was reversing course on Oct. 11, two days after Shandro’s press conference.

Hospitals can seek retroactive reimbursements from the military, he said.

In the 2018-19 fiscal year, DND paid Alberta providers nearly $15 million for health services, including $6.7 million for hospital visits.

Bouchard said it’s possible the military could change reimbursement rates in the future, but next time, it will be done with additional consultation with provinces and territories. DND will not cut overall funding for health services to members of the Forces, he said.

“It is anticipated that if consultation results in any future reimbursement policy change, adjustments will be communicated far enough in advance to ensure that hospitals’ and health-care systems’ business planning cycles are respected,” Bouchard said.

Shandro said Friday Alberta Health Services reports the military has returned to paying the full cost of medical services.

“I understand the federal government has said they may want to make changes again in the future, so we’ll monitor this closely,” he said. “We hope next time we’ll be notified well in advance and have input into any proposed change.”