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Queen’s Park reaches deal with doctors

Queen’s Park has reached a tentative four-year deal with Ontario’s doctors after many months of rancorous negotiations, protests and political gamesmanship.
July 11, 2016
By Robert Benzie

Queen’s Park has reached a tentative four-year deal with Ontario’s doctors after many months of rancorous negotiations, protests and political gamesmanship.

The provisional agreement, which must still be approved by the Ontario Medical Association’s council on Aug. 6, includes small annual increases to the physician services budget to account for population growth and an aging society.

Health Minister Eric Hoskins said Monday he was “pleased” to have concluded the accord, but stressed he could not discuss the financial details until it is ratified.

“Apart from saying it’s within our fiscal framework, the specifics of the tentative agreement remain confidential between parties, which is not uncommon,” Hoskins said in an interview.

“It will be made public assuming it’s ratified by the membership,” he said, acknowledging the budget will rise slightly above the $11.6 billion currently earmarked for doctors.

In a bid to contain costs and keep the annual physician services budget at that amount, the cash-strapped Liberal government last year reduced fees paid to doctors that the OMA estimated are the equivalent of 6.9 per cent in cuts.

OMA president Virginia Walley said the proposed agreement does not undo those.

“That, of course, is going to be a big concern for our members,” said Walley, adding the doctors are continuing their legal challenge that the government’s action was unconstitutional because it contravened the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“The last two years have been very disruptive,” she said, emphasizing the doctors’ crusade, including a high-profile advertising blitz and a protest at Queen’s Park, was about putting patients first.

But Walley, who declined to discuss any financial terms in the agreement until her members have seen it, said the Liberals have agreed “there will be no more unilateral action” from the government.

“It means that physicians and government can once again work together on important system changes that will entrench stability, predictability, and sustainability for patients, physicians and government, now and in the years to come,” she said.

Along with slashing fees, the Liberals also launched a public relations effort to highlight how much doctors are paid, revealing that some 500 physicians billed OHIP more than $1 million last year.

But the animosity between the government and the OMA, which represents 29,000 doctors and 7,000 medical students across Ontario, appears to have dissipated.

Under the arrangement, there will be additional funding to hire more doctors, a commitment to work together to improve primary care so patients can get same-day or next-day visits for serious medical conditions and improved evening, holiday and weekend coverage.

As well, the government will work with the doctors to update the OHIP fee code and amend it to account for changes in technology that enable physicians to perform procedures more quickly and more cheaply.

The Ministry of Health and the OMA will jointly select “a permanent facilitator with health expertise” to assist in this “co-management” of the system.

That adjudicator will be empowered to deliver binding resolutions in disputes between the government and the doctors.

Finally, there will be annual unspecified “one-time funding” in the agreement “to further support health-care priorities for patients.”

Progressive Conservative MPP Steve Clark (Leeds-Grenville) noted the Liberals “vilified” the OMA for months.

“Regardless of the deal, this government has maligned doctors for far too long,” said Clark.