Sending a signal that will reverberate throughout Ontario’s broader public sector, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals have broken with their conciliatory past by forcing a tough new deal onto Ontario’s doctors.
Less than two weeks after negotiations with the Ontario Medical Association fell apart, and despite requests by the OMA to call in a conciliator, Health Minister Deb Matthews announced Monday that a package of cuts to doctors’ fees will be unilaterally imposed through regulations, retroactive to April 1.
The abrupt manner in which the cuts were unveiled, amid claims by the OMA that Ms. Matthews has misrepresented discussions at the bargaining table, sets an aggressive tone for other negotiations – including with the province’s teachers. And it epitomized the shifting focus of a government once known for its big-spending ways.
The 37 fee-schedule changes announced Monday focus heavily (although not exclusively) on a relatively small number of high-paid specialists – mostly radiologists, ophthalmologists and cardiologists – and by the Liberals’ estimate will save $338-million in 2012-13 and $440-million in 2013-14. But sources say there are more broad-based cuts to come, to get the rest of the way to a two-year freeze in doctors’ total pay envelope.
Still on the table is the elimination of a “retention bonus,” which the Liberals had brought in to dissuade doctors from leaving the province. That benefit currently peaks at $5,000 every three years for doctors who have practised at least three decades.
The government also wants to revive so-called clawbacks of doctors’ fees once they exceed a level at which their ratio to overhead costs becomes skewed.