Ontario doctors crying foul over upcoming fee cut
Published Wednesday, September 23, 2015 9:52PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 25, 2015 5:31PM EDT
An upcoming fee cut has many Ontario doctors crying foul and threatening to leave the province or retire early.
On Oct. 1, physicians in the province will see their fees slashed by 1.3 per cent. This comes on the tails of a 2.6 per cent cut in January. On Oct. 1, physicians in the province will see their fees slashed by 1.3 per cent. This comes on the tails of a 2.6 per cent cut in January.
Tensions are high between the governing Liberal Party and the province's doctors. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is trying to save billions across the board in health care, and doctors have not been immune to cost-saving measures.
The Liberal's announced in April that the health-care budget for 2015-16 will be $50.8 billion. The total represents a 1.2 per cent increase from the previous year, but doesn't keep pace with inflation.
The cuts were imposed after the Ontario Medical Association rejected the government's offer in January and walked away from negotiations despite a conciliation report that suggested doctors accept the deal.
The organization had previously offered a two-year wage freeze, which was turned down by the province.
"Doctors in Ontario are some of the best paid in North America, if not in the world," said Wynne at a press conference on Wednesday.
"It's disappointing to me that we weren't able to come to an agreement with them."
Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins said that the government spent a "year" negotiating with doctors and they "refused to accept the deal."
"We are asking doctors to take a modest decrease in the compensation they receive," said Hoskins.
The province believes it needs to bring its spiraling health-care costs under control, including the more $11 billion allotted for physician services in the budget.
Family physicians often treat their patients back-to-back, with few breaks, so news that the government is cutting their fees has left them frustrated and angry.
"The government has us on our knees with their hands around our throats," said Dr. Doug Mark a family physician in Toronto.
"This is how bad it's getting."
Mark says he has already lost a chunk of his salary, and worries that the government could introduce further cuts.
The average doctor in the province bills OHIP for $360,000 a year.
However, they are also saddled with overhead costs, including staff salaries, office space, medical equipment and office supplies.
The OMA estimates that 30 per cent of "gross professional billings" go towards these expenses.
Mark says that the blows to his wallet have him contemplating early retirement, while younger doctors might simply pack up and leave the province.
He believes the cuts won’t just hurt doctors, but also the quality of health care available in the province.
"I think patients should be very concerned," said Mark.
"It's not just going to affect us, it's going to affect their health care."
The OMA estimates that there are 800,000 people in the province who do not have family physician.
One of the younger doctors contemplating a move because of fee cuts and financial uncertainty is Dr. Kent Tisher.
His downtown Toronto practice already serves 700 patients after opening last November.
Tisher says he may have to enact tough measures to offset the effects of the cuts.
"We may have to lay off staff, we may have to reduce the number of hours we are open, or I will have to see more patients and spend less time with each patient," said Tisher.
Tisher says he loves his job but he does not like the "instability" of his take-home pay each month.
And with an office to run and student debts to pay, the recent graduate says he is eyeing a move to Newfoundland, which he says has secure funding for doctors.
The government measures have sparked Ontario's doctors to launch an offensive on social media.
The Facebook group Ontario MDS Concerned about Continued Funding Cuts was set up by Dr. Slivana Bolano a gastroenterologist.
Within days the page had more than 10,000 followers and it's continuing to grow.
Bolano has been practicing for four years and her clinic in Ottawa, which currently has an eight-month wait.
During that time, she says she has been frustrated and demoralized because has seen continued cuts to physician pay.
After hearing about a potential earnings cap next year, she's reached her a breaking point.
"I don't know how much of the fees are going to be taken away, and It is going to be very difficult to know if those fees are going to cover my staff," said Bolano.
She says other doctors have shared their struggles on her Facebook page and they are also considering early retirement or fleeing the province.
"Patients are going to start noticing that their care is going to suffer because people are going to walk away from Ontario," said Bolano.
However, Hoskins disputes that doctors are leaving Ontario.
"We have no evidence that physicians are seeking to go elsewhere, in fact, the opposite is true … we are now getting an influx of doctors into the province," said Hoskins.
"I want to assure Ontarians the services our physicians provide will continue."
Another Facebook group, We are Your Ontario Doctors, has also been created to support Ontario doctors.
It asks social media users to share their personal stories of "all the good your docs do every day."
In a post on Sept. 18 the group said that the Liberal government has "given doctors a bad reputation" and that the fight is all about "providing better health care," not "paycheques."
The hashtag #CareNotCuts is also being used to stress the importance of health care in the province.
With files from CTV News Medical Specialist Avis Favaro, producer Elizabeth St. Philip, CTV Toronto’s Paul Bliss and The Canadian Press