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Doctors vote to reject fee deal

TORONTO—Doctors in Ontario have rejected a tentative four-year fee agreement reached with the province’s Liberal government.

The Ontario Medical Association said yesterday that 63 percent of its members who cast ballots Sunday voted against the deal, which would have raised Ontario’s $11.5-billion physician services budget by 2.5 percent in each of the four years.

It also would have allowed doctors to co-manage the system with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and provided one-time payments in each of the four years of $50 million, $100 million, $120 million, and $100 million, which would be reduced if actual expenditures exceed the physician services budget.

The Liberal government last year unilaterally imposed fee cuts for some doctors’ services, but the new deal promised there would be no more unilateral cuts over four years.

The OMA said the outcome of the vote means it immediately will request a meeting with the government to communicate its expectations for renewed negotiations.

The association, which represents 42,000 physicians, residents, and medical students, including about 29,000 doctors, said 55 percent of its membership participated in the vote, which doctors opposed to the tentative deal forced the OMA to hold.

Originally, the OMA’s 275-member council would have decided on ratification and only taken a non-binding vote by doctors into consideration as it made that decision.

But the association agreed to give each member a binding vote after dissidents gathered support on a petition.

Breakaway groups such as Concerned Ontario Doctors held rallies and protest marches against the agreement, saying the OMA should have stuck to its demand for binding arbitration to settle fee disputes.

OMA president Dr. Virginia Walley admitted the deal wasn’t perfect and vowed to keep fighting in court for binding arbitration, but said the agreement at least would have given doctors some financial stability after going two years without a contract.

She said the association now would consult doctors to see exactly what additional demands they want the OMA to pursue in renewed negotiations.

“The OMA will always represent the will of our members, and today is no different,” Walley said in a release announcing the results of the doctors’ vote.

“I am personally committed to rebuilding trust, and to reuniting and re-engaging our membership.”

Health minister Eric Hoskins issued a statement saying he was disappointed doctors rejected a deal “that would have offered the province’s physicians, for the first time, an opportunity to have a seat at the table where decisions are made about spending and the future of our health-care system.”

Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown said doctors rejected what he called the Liberals’ “short-sighted” cuts to patient care, and called the negotiation process irretrievably flawed.

“With the unilateral cuts to physician services, vilification of their profession, and continual adversarial campaigns against them, Ontario doctors today have declared that enough is enough,” Brown said in a statement.

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