The Doctor is Out

By Dr. Douglas Mark

I never thought it would come to this. When I entered medical school, all those years ago, I never imagined in my wildest dreams there'd come a day when the Government of Ontario would declare war on doctors.

But with their recent announcement that, starting Oct. 1, more cuts to services and clawbacks to physician billings are about to kick in, it's become painfully obvious that Premier Kathleen Wynne and Treasury Board President Deb Matthews have not only decided to go on the attack against doctors, but have also chosen to declare war on our patients, who are likely to end up innocent civilian casualties in this conflict.

In addition to the cuts announced last February, when the Liberals made the decision to go it alone and unilaterally make changes to the Schedule of Benefits, Wynne and Matthews announced they'll be making an additional 1.3% across-the-board reduction in fee-for-service payments — which will result in a further $235 million being cut from our health-care system.

Now, this is alarming enough, but the Ontario Government has also made it clear that should physician billings go over their pulled-out-of-a-hat so-called "hard cap" they imposed on the medical profession Feb. 1, then further cuts will have to be made, most likely by clawing back as much as 10 or 20 per cent of each individual doctor's OHIP payments.

To put this in terms everyone can understand, a 10% clawback would mean that every tenth patient a doctor sees would be for free. A 20% clawback would mean that one out of every five patients a doctor treats would result in that physician receiving no remuneration for providing those services. Doctors would still be expected to cover the rent and other office expenses, keep the lights on, and pay their staff. Oh, and maybe feed their families.

By now, you're probably wondering why the Liberals would do such a thing, putting your health and that of your loved ones at risk. After all, funding couldn't possibly be an issue, could it? — what with the billions in Canada Health Transfer payments the Ontario Government receives every year from the feds, and their own Health Care Levy that former Premier Dalton McGuinty foisted upon us shortly after he became premier back in 2003.

Truth is, money is the issue. In addition to squandering billions of dollars on one fiasco after another, the Liberals have decided to make labour peace with the province's teachers by paying for the expensive deals they've either reached with the teacher unions, or are in the process of negotiating, with — get this — the money they're cutting from our health-care system. Money that's meant to cover medical services so doctors can diagnose, treat and heal you, our patients, in the most cost-effective and timely manner possible — all while keeping in mind the current fiscal realities facing us.

As a result of these reckless and irresponsible actions taken by Wynne and Matthews, the doctors of Ontario are left with no choice but to escalate our job actions. Starting Oct. 1, when the latest round of cuts are set to commence, and continuing throughout the fall and winter, DoctorsOntario will engage in the following activities in order to get the public's attention and force the Ontario Government to go back to the table and negotiate a fair and reasonable agreement with doctors:

1. Designate two days a month as "Wynne Daze" and persuade every doctor in the province to close their offices to their patients for 24 hours on those designated days.

2. Set up a M*A*S*H tent on the front lawn of Queen's Park, where doctors will see patients for free, and hand out band-aids in recognition of the Liberals' "band-aid solution" approach toward fixing our health-care system.

3. Encourage every family doctor in Ontario to do away with appointments and turn their offices into makeshift walk-in clinics.

4. Recommend that all obstetricians and gynecologists stop taking on newly-pregnant patients as of Jan. 1, 2016.

5. Set up a Job Fair and Retirement Planning Workshop in February, 2016, for those doctors who've had enough and either want to leave the province and go elsewhere or simply pack it in and retire.

In addition, DoctorsOntario plans on making a formal complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario against Health Minister Eric Hoskins and Deputy Health Minister Robert Bell. As physicians, both Dr. Hoskins and Dr. Bell should understand the damage these ill-advised cuts to our health-care system will cause, and be speaking out against the Ontario Government's plan instead of going along with — and even promoting it.

Harsh medicine, for sure. But if doctors don't speak up now and stand up for our patients, the time may not be that far away when, instead of going to see your doctor upon discovering you or a family member is sick, you'll have no option but to make an appointment to go and see your child's teacher in order to see what they can do for you.

After all, that's where Premier Wynne and Treasury Board President Matthews are redirecting your health-care dollars.

Feel good about that?

Dr. Douglas Mark is the Interim President of DoctorsOntario. Follow him on Twitter @DocsOntario.