Looking through my in box, I see:
- A report from an interventional radiologist, who performed a percutaneous vertebroplasty (injecting a bone in the spine with a form of cement) on a patient of mine with severe back pain. She now walks without a cane.
- A report from an interventional cardiologist who performed a very difficult cardiac stenting procedure (insertion of tubes in the blood vessels to the heart) on a patient of mine with unstable heart pain – probably saving his life
- A report from an ophthalmologist, who expertly fixed my patients cataracts. She can now see her grandchildren clearly for the first time in years.
I think of colleagues like these (and many others) when I read about how Dr. David Jacobs, a radiologist and former Ontario Medical Association (OMA) Board member, would like to start a separate organization to represent specialists. Dr. Jacobs is well known in the profession for his actions during what’s become known as the tPSA fiasco of 2016. The former leadership of the OMA negotiated a deal with the despicable Kathleen Wynne government, but there were many questions about the process. Dr. Jacobs exposed the situation in the press, and helped to stop a deal that would have effectively destroyed health care in Ontario. It’s well known that I worked with him to stop this bad deal. However, I think he’s on the wrong path this time.
I can appreciate how hard it must be for some specialists to feel good about the OMA right now. On October 21, OMA Council passed an advisory motion recommending that the top three specialties might get cut by up to 6 per cent more (1% per year until 2024) than they have been already. Most Ontario physicians unilaterally had their gross incomes cut by 7 percent by the desultory Kathleen Wynne. Some of the higher paid specialties were cut more due to what’s known as targeted cuts. If the OMA Board agrees to the Council motion, some specialists would be even more angry at the Association.
But the reality is that if Dr. Jacobs is successful in his endeavor, specialists will get eaten alive by government. Any government.
The best example of split associations is in Quebec. Specialists and Family Doctors each have their own associations. One can certainly see the appeal of going that route when you read stories about the big “raise” that specialists in Quebec got in 2015. The “raise” was so large that some doctors actually protested it as being too much (no really) and wanted to give some of it back.
But one has to look at the facts first. The deal was meant to compensate doctors for the fact that there was NO increase from 2007 to 2015 (fat lot of good having two associations did then). Now, before the bulk of the “raise” sets in, a new government is in place and plans on eradicating it. Who do you think can fight against governments more? Two small groups or one large one with more resources than either one?
Additionally, I’m not convinced that most specialists are aware of what the OMA is asking for in arbitration. The OMA is asking for a repeal of all the cuts (targeted and otherwise), and normative increases (raises). By contrast the small specialist group seems to only want the cuts repealed. They have not asked for raises. Why would specialists want to join a group that is asking for LESS at arbitration than the OMA is?
Here’s where this really hurts the specialists. If I was the government, I would look at the fact that I was in arbitration with the OMA. Faced with the possibility of physicians being paid more than I was willing to pay, I would try to divide the OMA. I would probably send some sort of official to talk to the disgruntled doctors to encourage them on. See if I could cause dissension in the OMA while I was fighting them in arbitration. If I was able to split the OMA, I would happily start to advertise the high gross billings (while ignoring their overheads) of this group of specialists and then use that to cut their billings even more in the future. It’s called playing the long game.
Some specialists are understandably upset right now. But under the current Arbitration process with the OMA, they still have the potential to recoup more of their lost income than this new group suggests. Council also approved exploring potential dispute resolution mechanisms for relativity in arbitration. If this can be organized in time, they would have a fair, impartial avenue to address their concerns. Specialists will not have access to Binding Arbitration if they form a small separate group. What are the chances that any government would freely offer a valuable bargaining tool like Arbitration to a newly minted organization?
Many doctors are frustrated with the pace of change at the OMA. As someone who’s been accused (not altogether incorrectly I might add) of being too impatient himself, I understand that. The OMA has made significant strides in the past year. More is planned. But to bail out in anger only hurts people in the long run.
I worry that joining this group out of frustration and anger is going to further harm the specialists that I rely on to treat my patients. They’ve taken a huge beating (as have all of us) the past few years. The beating has not only been financial, but psychological and emotional as the loathsome Wynne government heaped scorn on doctors at every opportunity.
But in their anger, they are allowing themselves to be played by the government, and I fear they will be much worse off in the long run as a result.