Liberal Robert Henderson dubbed a $434,000 line item reserved for compensating doctors affected financially by the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic as a "CERB for doctors" during Question Period on Tuesday.
Henderson asked Health Minister James Aylward about the compensation package. A total of $434,000 was spent on doctor compensation before the end of March and an additional $1.9 million was budgeted on the same item between April 1 and May 15.
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is a Federal program that currently provides financial assistance to workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
"Could you explain to this legislature what are the specifics of this program? What is it designed to do?" Henderson asked.
Aylward said the physician compensation package was for physicians who were impacted due to the public health restrictions imposed earlier in the pandemic, which restricted visits to clinics. Fee-for-service doctors are paid by the province on a per-visit basis.
"We worked with the Medical Society of Prince Edward Island, [which] represents the fee for service doctors and we came up with a program where they would still be compensated while this pandemic was going on," Aylward said.
"These physicians, in many cases, still had offices to maintain, rent-wise. They had staff as well that they still needed to maintain."
"So you're sort of saying it's like a CERB program for doctors, is that it?" Henderson asked.
Henderson then asked what services were provided to Islanders as a result of the expenditure.
Aylward said the province’s Master Agreement with physicians obligates the province to help doctors financially in certain circumstances.
"That's what this government did. They took the responsibilities [seriously] so that when we came out of the pandemic, we still had a healthcare system to go back to," Aylward said.
As of last fall, P.E.I. had 77 full-time equivalent physicians paid through fee-for-service, which represented about 34 per cent of P.E.I. doctors.
Aylward said the compensation package was offered partly out of a sense of loyalty to physicians in P.E.I.
"During this pandemic, we need to ensure our physicians that are employed here on Prince Edward Island were going to be financially in a position that they could continue on as we ease out of the pandemic," Aylward said.
"Fundamentally, the most important reason is because we wanted to look after our healthcare professionals."
Aylward added that doctors also had overhead costs associated with their clinics, as well as salary costs for staff who may not have qualified for the CERB benefits.
He said these physicians did not “sit at home” during the pandemic. Many worked at cough and fever clinics, while others saw patients through telehealth or other virtual means.
He added the measures were intended to keep physicians practicing on P.E.I.
"Nationally, there's a demand for doctors and doctors are mobile - they can go from one jurisdiction to another very easily," Aylward said.