TORONTO – There’s no sign of any return to negotiations between the Liberal government and the Ontario Medical Association on a new fee agreement for the province’s doctors.
Doctors voted overwhelmingly last month to reject a tentative agreement that would have provided a 10 per cent boost to the physician services budget over four years, an increase of more than $1 billion, to $12.9 billion by 2020.
The OMA executive had recommended the deal be accepted, but disgruntled doctors forced the association to give physicians a binding vote, and more than 63 per cent of those who cast ballots rejected it.
Health Minister Eric Hoskins said he won’t meet the OMA’s demand for binding arbitration before negotiations resume unless it agrees to act like other public sector unions, which would mean full salary disclosure and giving up tax benefits like incorporation and income splitting.
“They’ve haven’t indicated their willingness to do that,” Hoskins said Tuesday. “I just think that they’ve created a wall blocking the ability to reach an agreement with that pre-condition.”
The tentative deal the doctors rejected included binding arbitration for the schedule of benefits, added Hoskins, who said he was not the minister of doctors, but the minister of health care.
“We need to make sure that when that next health care dollar is being spent it’s being spent on the right priorities like home care, nurses, hospitals and mental health, not to high paid specialists, 500 of whom are billing the province more than $1 million,” he said.
One specialist billed the Ontario Health Insurance Plan $6.6 million, he added.
Hoskins said British Columbia repealed legislation giving doctors there binding arbitration after salaries jumped 20 per cent – an average of $50,000 – overnight.
He accused the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats of pandering to doctors by not taking a clear position on binding arbitration.
Both opposition parties said Tuesday that binding arbitration should be part of the discussion with doctors, but stopped short of saying they’d agree to the demand to get the fee negotiations back on track.
“That should be one of the items on the negotiations table. It should be part of that negotiating process,” said PC Leader Patrick Brown.
“We’ve said for some time now that binding arbitration should be in the mix, that it should be part of the discussion, absolutely,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
Both opposition leaders criticized the Liberals for being “ham fisted” in their approach with the province’s physicians.
Doctors have been without a fee agreement for more than two years, and were fuming after the Liberals unilaterally reduced payments for some services last year.
Hoskins said he prefers to negotiate any changes to the fee schedule, but warns the government could act on its own again if there is no agreement with the OMA.
“We can’t wait forever,” he said.
The OMA said it was disappointed the government announced in Monday’s throne speech that it will reintroduce the Patients First Act, which the association said gives Hoskins the power to impose decisions about patient care without consulting health-care professionals.
Hoskins dismissed the claim, and defended the government’s decision to talk about the “highest billing physicians” in the throne speech that opened the fall session of the legislature.
“The point that the throne speech was making, I believe, is that we need to get our priorities right,” he said.