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Wedderburn back story: Brown’s fee cuts anger

Back story: Ewart Brown addresses supporters over the closure of CT Unit at Brown-Darrell clinic, brought on by the government-imposed fee cuts (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Tawanna Wedderburn, the fired chief executive of the Bermuda Health Council, was the target for much of Ewart Brown’s anger over cuts to fees for medical scans.

The former premier named her and two other public servants at a press conference he staged a year ago to announce that one of his medical clinics would have to close because of the reductions.

Records released under public access to information last year by the Ministry of Health showed how Dr Brown, owner of Bermuda Healthcare Services in Paget and Brown-Darrell Clinic in Smith’s, vented his anger about the reduced fees at Ms Wedderburn in a series of e-mails and letters.

He accused the BHeC of working with the One Bermuda Alliance government to “concoct” a new fee structure designed to target only his clinics.

Dr Brown e-mailed Ms Wedderburn on May 17, 2017 to check that the newly reduced fees would go into effect on June 1 that year.

He said that gave his businesses only two weeks to absorb cuts that were a 70 per cent reduction from the previous rates for some procedures.

He also claimed there had been no consultation with stakeholders about the reductions.

Ms Wedderburn replied the next day to confirm the June 1 date and insisted that consultation had taken place since September 2016.

Dr Brown replied: “I must say that your definition of ‘consultation’ has always concerned me. It seems that you believe that one or two meetings, plus the exchange of data, adds up to consultation ... Our belief is different. We believe that consultation is essentially conversation about everything that is on the table for change.”

The fees charged for scans at Dr Brown’s clinics are aligned with the schedule for the Bermuda Hospitals Board because Dr Brown opted to be a provider of Standard Health Benefit procedures, which are services that insurers must include in their health insurance coverage.

That meant if the cost of scans at the hospital went up or down, so did the amount that could be charged at Dr Brown’s clinics.

Ms Wedderburn asked if Dr Brown would like to opt his clinics out of Standard Health Benefit.

He wrote back: “I would have to think about this and would also like to know why you and the minister [Jeanne Atherden] changed course on us.

“Given the strong anti-BHCS sentiment on your board, please explain why I should not see your suggested option as a ‘set-up’.

“Why should things be any different from previous years?”

Dr Brown wrote to Michael Dunkley, then the premier, two weeks later to complain that “the Government, with the assistance of the BHeC, concocted a methodology that unfairly, grossly and negatively affects the only provider of such services in Bermuda: my clinics.”

Dr Brown said in an interview with Bernews last January that he had threatened legal action against the Government over the fee cuts.

He added: “The court case was about this unfair targeting that we say we experienced from the health council.”

Taxpayers will pay Dr Brown $1.2 million in compensation for the fee cuts.

The Ministry of Health at first said the payments were needed “in order to help ensure CT and MRI services are readily available to the public”.

However, Ms Wilson later said the decision to pay public funds to Dr Brown’s two private clinics was not an attempt to ensure that his CT and MRI scanning units stayed open and there was no discussion with him about keeping them open.

Ms Wedderburn said in September that Bermuda had an adequate number of scanners for its ageing population. “If there are too many CT scanners, people may be exposed to too much unnecessary testing and healthcare costs will increase,” she said.

The Government raised the fees for scans in November, in some cases doubling them from the reduced schedule, which came into effect in June 2017.

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