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Tentative deal with doctors reached

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TORONTO—Ontario doctors have reached a tentative four-year agreement with the province, including a clause to jointly “update” doctors’ fees, which have been a major source of acrimony since the government imposed cuts.

The Ontario Medical Association, which represents 34,000 physicians and medical students, had been without a deal for two years and tensions ratcheted up last year after the Liberal government unilaterally issued some fee cuts.

OMA president Dr. Virginia Walley said this deal provides a starting point for that relationship to be repaired.

“I think it’s fair to say that many physicians have been discouraged by their treatment the last year or so, and this is the opportunity to . . . work together to rebuild that trust, to rebuild that trust in the interests of patients and patient care,” she noted.

The deal includes annual increases to the physician services budget and would see both sides “co-manage” it, allowing them to “work together to jointly identify savings, update fee codes, and account for technological change,” both sides said in a joint statement.

Health minister Eric Hoskins did not rule out rolling back some of the fee cuts.

“We have a mechanism where we can co-manage those funds together,” he said in an interview.

“I think there’s considerable scope within that to make sure that we’re investing in the right things, and to make changes which are based on those important issues,” Hoskins added.

Walley called the co-management “an extraordinarily important” part of the deal, but it also means it is really a starting point, if ratified.

“This agreement provides some stability for the next few years for physicians,” she said.

“And it gives physicians the opportunity to work with government in a constructive, co-operative way—in a way that we just haven’t had available to us in the last couple of years.”

The tentative deal includes annual increases to the physician services budget, currently over $11 billion a year.

But Walley said they only will be enough to cover population growth and the costs of the province’s aging population, “so it really accommodates only the physicians who will serve those increased needs in the system,” she warned.

Details are set to be released once the agreement is ratified.

The vote is scheduled in August.

The deal also would provide annual funding for hiring new doctors and improvements to access to primary care, including same-day or next-day visits for urgent conditions and primary care coverage on evenings, weekends, and holidays.

The government said the agreement is within its fiscal plan, which aims to eliminate the deficit by 2017-18.

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