TORONTO – The Ontario Medical Association and the health minister can’t even agree on who called whom after both insisted they were prepared to resume negotiations on a new fee schedule for the first time in over a year.
It’s been two years since the province had an agreement with the OMA, which represents 34,000 physicians and medical students, and last year the government unilaterally imposed some fee cuts.
The OMA issued a news release Monday saying it was ready to return to negotiations “tomorrow” after Health Minister Eric Hoskins said he would consider the doctors’ request for arbitration to settle their fee disputes if talks resumed within 10 days.
READ MORE: Ontario asks doctors to return to the table on fee negotiations within 10 days
Hoskins insisted Tuesday that the OMA knew full well that he had been prepared to consider mediation and arbitration since the doctors group “walked away” from negotiations a year ago, and said it was wrong of them to suggest otherwise.
Hoskins’ office issued a statement late Tuesday saying he “reiterated his offer” to return to formal negotiations” but “regrettably, the OMA has indicated they are not available to meet this week.”
The OMA said it was “confused by the minister’s comments,” claiming they called him and got nowhere.
“We contacted the minister’s office this afternoon to confirm a meeting date,” spokeswoman Nadia Daniell-Colarossi in an email Tuesday evening. “We have not yet received a response.”
However, Hoskins’ office said it was the deputy minister of health that called the OMA seeking a time to meet.
READ MORE: Doctors rally over cuts after announcement that 500 doctors bill over $1M
“Senior Ministry of Health officials contacted senior OMA officials by phone today,” said Hoskins’ spokesman Shae Greenfield.
OMA president Dr. Mike Toth issued a letter to Hoskins Tuesday calling for “fair and clear rules for the negotiations process in advance of formal talks” with the province.
“While Ontario doctors are eager to secure an agreement, it would be irresponsible to accept anything less than a permanent and stable framework, which includes long term binding arbitration,” wrote Toth.
Earlier Tuesday, Hoskins defended his decision to announce last week that more than 500 doctors had billed over $1 million last year, and insisted it was one ophthalmologist that billed $6.6 million, not a group of specialists as some critics claimed.
READ MORE: 500 doctors billed Ontario’s health insurance plan $1M each; one billed ‘staggering’ $6.6M
He said the government wants to highlight that the fee schedule has not kept pace with technological changes that allow some specialists to bill way above the $368,000 the average Ontario doctor bills.
Ontario budgets over $11 billion annually for physician compensation.