TORONTO — A deal reached between the provincial government and the Ontario Medical Association will add $100 million to the physician compensation budget but both sides insist doctors are not getting a pay hike.
“We can characterize this as a real wage freeze,” Health Minister Deb Matthews said Tuesday. “Yes, there is a little bit more in the physician service envelope but every penny of that is offset by system’s savings that doctors control.”
OMA president Dr. Doug Weir said doctors have agreed to find savings through such measures as reducing unnecessary tests.
In exchange, the Ontario government has reversed course on about $75 million in fee cuts imposed on doctors through regulation in the spring.
“Most of those regulations are still there but the most egregious ones have been changed,” Weir said.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Harper said it looks to him like the Liberal government has just added $100 million to the debt after vowing in the spring to take a harder line with doctor compensation.
“This is what a flailing, failed government looks like -- that they make one announcement and then months later they backpedal,” Hudak said.
NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson said the government’s message on public sector restraint is one of “mass confusion,” with doctors appearing to get a pay hike at a time when the Liberals are going to war with teachers over a wage freeze.
“There’s no tough love here,” Bisson said of the doctor deal.
Matthews said the ministry intends to follow through with the OMA and ensure that the system saves a penny for every extra cent spent on compensation.
“There is no more money in the kitty -- I just want to make this really clear,” Matthews said.
In addition, the deal reached with the OMA -- which will be put to doctors for ratification next month -- makes changes to improve patient care, she said.
“We’re going to be paying doctors more to do things like house calls for seniors; we’re going to be paying doctors more to care for people who have complex health needs,” she said.
Premier Dalton McGuinty said he hopes the OMA deal, reached after a very rough start, will send a signal to all Ontarians that his government is committed to signing agreements with its workers.
He said his government has also been very close to securing agreements with some teachers in the last few days.
Ontario public teachers have withdrawn some extra services in protest over government legislation imposing wage freezes, and principals have expressed concern about student safety.
“The (education) minister will monitor the situation very closely just to ensure that student safety, in particular, is not being compromised,” McGuinty said.
“We’d love to get back to the table with teachers but it’s very difficult for us to do so at the same time that they’re pursuing job actions.”