Cuts Could Hurt Patients, Doctors Say

Ontario Medical Association president Dr. Doug Weir says that cuts to fees paid to doctors for procedures may mean fewer physicians in Ontario. Photo by Omar Mosleh.

Cuts to fees for medical procedures will negatively affect patient care in Ontario, warns the president of the Ontario Medical Association.

After unsuccessful negotiations, the provincial government imposed cuts of $338 million in May for the fees doctors receive when they carry out medical procedures.

“If they make the cuts, it’s going to be harder to attract doctors to Ontario,” Ontario Medical Association president Dr. Doug Weir told the Town Crier during an editorial board meeting.

“It will also affect the ability for patients to get timely diagnostic testing, to find a family doctor and they’re going to have to wait longer to see specialists,” he added.

In a media release, Ontario’s Minister of Health Deb Matthews said Ontario doctors are the best paid in the country, and therefore she didn’t anticipate them leaving.

“The Ontario Medical Association is arguing that a real wage freeze while maintaining services will be very challenging if not impossible,” the statement says. “We could not disagree more.”

Weir refuted the statement by referring to a Dec. 2011 Canadian Institute for Health Information report that ranked Ontario seventh of 10 provinces in terms of fee-for-services (one element that determines a physician’s income) payments to doctors.

The $338 million in cuts will primarily affect office-based services, Weir said, because less revenue from fees means less money to pay for overhead costs and buy new technology.

However, he said the Ontario government’s plan to cut an additional $700 million from the OHIP budget could affect services across the board, including hospital wait times.

The cuts are part of the province’s freeze of its $11 billion OHIP budget, retroactive to April 1, 2012.

The payment reductions focus on 37 procedures that take less time to perform than in the past due to technological advances, such as cataract surgery. Previously, the province also planned to cut self-referral fees in half, but backed away from that proposal and formed an expert panel to study it.

The Ontario Medical Association is also taking the province to the Superior Court of Justice in a charter challenge for a “review of negotiation tactics,” said Weir.

“What we’re asking the courts to do is rule that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to the medical association and the Ontario government violated our association rights by trying to go around us,” Weir said.

Weir said his association is aware of the deficit Ontario is struggling with, but still wants to come to a solution that will not affect patient care.

“We’re hoping the government comes to their senses,” he said. “We don’t really want to go the courts; we did this because we felt we had no other choice.”

http://mytowncrier.ca/fee-cuts-could-hurt-patients-say-doctors.html

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