N.B. health minister warns doctors about double-billing
Published Wednesday, December 5, 2012 6:25PM AST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 5, 2012 7:26PM AST
New Brunswick’s new health minister has fired a broadside at the province’s doctors, telling them fraud won’t be tolerated on his watch.
The blunt warning is in response to Auditor General Kim MacPherson’s finding that some doctors are double-billing patients or over-charging the province.
However, Anthony Knight, CEO of the New Brunswick Medical Society, says Health Minister Hugh Flemming is out of line.
Today, Flemming told the legislature he would “ferret out” double-billing doctors, a position he later clarified when speaking with reporters.
Flemming says most doctors are honest and use the billing system properly, but he also says there are bad apples in every bunch.
This isn’t an attack on doctors,” says Flemming.
“If mistakes are made, they’ll be corrected…but improper billing and anything that resembles or looks fraudulent will be dealt with quickly and, may I also say, harshly.”
According to the New Brunswick Medical Society, billing rules are open to interpretation. Knight says billing is also done using an antiquated system in desperate need of upgrading.
“We see boxes of paper being shipped up from Saint John to the Fredericton Health Department office to thumb through and figure out whether a doctor was paid by Medicare or paid by WorkSafe, or whether a patient was a WorkSafe or Medicare patient, and you can see how there would be errors, would be omissions or mistakes by anyone within those steps,” says Knight.
The Liberals say if any wrongdoing is uncovered, it should be punished.
“If there’s fault to be found, let’s make sure that there’s sanctions in place in order to make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” says Liberal MLA Donald Arseneault.
Flemming says punishments could range from suspended billing privileges to criminal charges.
Meanwhile, the New Brunswick Medical Society says the health minister needs to check his facts before announcing what amounts to a witch hunt.
When pressed on whether they could deny double-billing was taking place, the society said errors are common given the system used in the billing process, but that reconciliation is also common, but that process can take years.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Andy Campbell