Policy changes and physicians opting out from Medicare in Quebec: an interrupted time-series analysis

CMAJ. 2021 Feb 16;193(7):E237-E241. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.201216.

Abstract

Background: In all Canadian provinces, physicians can decide to either bill the provincial public system (opt in) or work privately and bill patients directly (opt out). We hypothesized that 2 policy events were associated with an increase in physicians opting out in Quebec.

Methods: The 2 policy events of interest were the 2005 Supreme Court of Canada ruling on Chaoulli v. Quebec and a regulatory clampdown forbidding double billing that was implemented by Quebec's government in 2017. We used interrupted time-series analyses of the Quebec government's yearly list of physicians who chose to opt out from 1994 to 2019 to analyze the relation between these events and physician billing status.

Results: The number of family physicians who opted out increased from 9 in 1994 to 347 in 2019. Opting out increased after the Chaoulli ruling, and our analysis suggested that between 2005 and 2019, 284 more family physicians opted out than if pre-Chaoulli trends had continued. The number of specialist physicians who opted out rose from 23 in 1994 to 150 in 2019. Our analysis suggested that an additional 69 specialist physicians opted out after the 2017 clampdown on double billing than previous trends would have predicted.

Interpretation: We found that the number of physicians who opted out increased in Quebec, and increases after 2 policy actions suggest an association with these policy interventions. Opting out decisions are likely important inputs into decision-making by physicians, which, in turn may influence the provision of publicly funded health care.