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Wed, January 31, 2007

Double-billing docs

Auditor general's probe reveals thousands of instances in province


Alberta New Democrats are hailing a local grandmother as a hero for helping the auditor general uncover nearly 10,000 incidents of double-dipping by doctors that cost taxpayers $718,785 in one year alone.

Patricia Reddy, 62, who has worked for 16 years at a Sherwood Park fast-food outlet, said she went to provincial Auditor General Fred Dunn four years ago after no one else would listen to her complaint.

"I wouldn't give up and I wouldn't go away," Reddy explained yesterday. "I contacted every minister of health and the College of Physicians and Surgeons and they refused to deal with the problem."

Dunn discovered that doctors had billed Alberta Health $718,785 in 2005-06 for services they also billed to the Workers' Compensation Board.

NDP MLA Ray Martin says Alberta Health likely wasted millions of dollars over the past decade while it was crying about skyrocketing health-care costs.

"Instead of worrying about privatizing (health care) and all the things they're trying to do, it seems to me the first step is to make sure the money we're paying out is spent properly," he said.

Health Minister David Hancock seemed unaware of the auditor general's findings yesterday.

"I'll be very interested in looking at that," he said.

Alberta Health is now working with the WCB to set up an information-sharing system to prevent similar abuses from occurring, but no decisions have been made on whether any money will be recovered or whether charges will be laid.

"It's something we're working on now," said Alberta Health spokesman Shannon Haggarty.

"They are looking at every individual matter and reviewing everything. Once that review is done we'll take appropriate steps."

Haggarty said development of the information sharing system is expected to be completed this spring.

Reddy said her medical problems began in 1996 when she underwent "a disastrous surgery."

When she went through her file, she discovered everything from lab tests and X-rays to doctor's treatments were being billed twice.

She estimates the double-billings totalled hundreds of thousands of dollars in her file alone.

Reddy said she hauled 10 loads of files to the auditor general's office after former human resources ministers Clint Dunford and Mike Cardinal and former health minister Iris Evans failed to act. She said she was banned from Evans's constituency office and "got the brushoff" from the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

College spokesman Kelly Eby said the disciplinary body doesn't get involved in doctors' billings.

"We don't have anything to do with this so we're not following up on it in any way," she said.

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