The Alberta government says a Calgary clinic has halted its plan to charge patients fees for faster access to its family doctor.
“The (Marda Loop Medical) clinic indicated they will not be proceeding with charging fees on Aug. 1,” Alberta Health spokesman Scott Johnston said in a statement.
It’s not clear if the clinic’s fee plan is on hold or has been scrapped altogether.
There were no visible notices to patients about the fees on the front door or in the waiting room when the clinic opened Tuesday.
A woman at the receptionist desk said she couldn’t comment and that Dr. Sally Talbot-Jones, the clinic’s owner and physician, would not be available for an interview.
The clinic’s website has yet to post any information on the new plan or on Tuesday’s decision to halt it.
Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd said the issue is still up in the air.
“Will there be fees to see a doctor at this clinic at some other date? We called the clinic today and we asked the question and we were told they’re undecided about implementing fees,” Shepherd told reporters.
Talbot-Jones has not returned requests for an interview for more than a week.
She promised patients in a recent email that starting Tuesday there would be faster access, along with other perks and discounts, to patients who paid a yearly membership fees.
The fees include $2,200 for a single adult and $4,800 for a family.
One day a week was to be left open for patients who didn’t opt in, while the other four days would be for membership plan patients.
Talbot-Jones told patients in the email the goal was to provide better service. She told CBC News last week the plan was linked to meeting rising costs for clinic overhead.
Health Canada and the province say charging fees for faster access to insured services violates health laws. Health Canada had advised the province that if it didn’t remedy the Marda Loop clinic plan, it would face cuts in federal health transfers.
Premier Danielle Smith promised last week the clinic would be fined, lose medicare funding or be shut down altogether if it proceeded with the plan.
Shepherd renewed the call on Smith’s United Conservative Party government to abandon its piecemeal approach to the problem and pass legislation banning all “members-only medicine.”
If it doesn’t, he said, the NDP will try to get a private member’s bill against membership fees passed in the house when it resumes Oct. 30.
Alberta Health has said 13 clinics are charging fees for services such as acupuncture treatments and optional surgeries. It said they are allowed because those types of services are not publicly funded.
In March, Ottawa clawed back close to $14 million in transfer fees to Alberta due to clinics charging fees for faster access to MRIs and CT scans. The province is disputing that clawback.
Smith made a manifesto promise in the recent provincial election that Albertans would not have to pay for basic medical services such as visits to a family doctor.
She made the promise after the Opposition pointed out that before she became premier, Smith advocated for such measures as paying for doctor visits as a way to keep the system sustainable in the long term.