November 26, 2004

Ontario Government Offers New Solutions Aimed at Ending Dispute With Doctors

TORONTO (CP) - A slew of new proposals aimed at ending a contract dispute with Ontario doctors should address all of their concerns without putting any new money on the table, the province's health minister said Friday.

"We've heard the feedback from (Ontario Medical Association) members and we have come forward with solutions that address each and every one of their concerns," George Smitherman said Friday after a meeting with OMA president John Rapin. The Ontario government and the OMA, which represents the province's 21,000 doctors, are locked in a struggle over money, physician shortages and lengthy wait times.

The offer does not introduce any new funding over the proposed four-year, $6.9-billion agreement rejected by Ontario doctors in a vote Nov. 20.

It does, however, offer to move some money earmarked for later spending forward to compensate doctors, Smitherman said.

"By bringing forward certain elements of the original agreement, we're able to give family physicians and specialists more financial support immediately," Smitherman said.

A spokeswoman for the OMA said Friday it has received the proposals but will consider them before making any comment.

Opposition health critic John Baird called the new offer an attempt to "bully" doctors into accepting the government's proposed deal.

"Let's be clear what (Smitherman) said: 'It's the government's intention to move forward on this agreement' - that's a threat," Baird said.

"This threat is an ominous one, not just to doctors but to the stability of the whole health-care system."

Baird said the government needs to go back to the table with the doctors and admit it "insulted their professionalism" with an earlier proposal based on reduced drug costs.

"We don't need the minister of health and his office going to war with doctors and questioning their integrity."

In October, Smitherman was put on the hot seat after a leak to the media on a proposal promising more money for physician services if doctors cut taxpayer-funded prescription drug costs by $200 million over four years.

The new deal offers $15 million in fee increases for family doctors in the first two years and promises an additional $15-million fee increase in the final year.

Visiting fees for family physicians would go up to $29.50 from $28.50 and would increase exemptions from billing thresholds for doctors providing services on targeted waiting lists such as cataract surgery, hip and knee replacements, and cardiac and cancer care.

The increased compensation for doctors in the first and second years of the deal would be covered by the cancellation of a $30-million agreement reassessment process.