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The Truth About Physician Pay

09/24/2015 05:52 EDT | Updated 09/24/2016 05:12 EDT
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Ontario physicians are well paid. No one is arguing that.

But right now, their paycheques are the only ones in the Liberal crosshairs.

Let's look at other well-paid public sector employees. Google the Sunshine List; it's all laid out by name, occupation, and taxable income. Professors, nurses, firefighters, the police and of course, politicians -- any public employee earning over $100,000 annually is named for your salacious pleasure.

Even Premier Wynne makes an appearance. At $208,974, she seemingly earns less than her own aide Tom Teahen ($304,068). However, this bizarre anomaly highlights the weakness inherent in the self-righteous Sunshine List: it only discloses taxable income.

Taxable income is take-home pay. Do not confuse it with total income.I suspect that Premier Wynne earns more than she reports. How is this possible? Well, many professions allow employees to write off significant parts of their salary for work-related expenses. These deductions can go towards covering pension costs, benefits, and dues among other things. What's left is called taxable income, or take-home pay. For Premier Wynne, this number -- $208,974 -- appears in a well-publicized and prurient list so that she gives the impression of modesty, transparency and accountability.

All politicians have work-related expenses. So do small businesses. So do physicians: what we call "overhead" covers the operating expenses of running a medical practice -- rent, utilities, salaries, equipment, personnel, as well as professional licenses and dues, continuing education to maintain said licenses, insurance, pensions, health and dental, maternity and sick leaves, so on and so forth. These expenses are a mandatory condition of our careers and can consume nearly 50 per cent of our total income.

As such, the intense pressure to disclose physician billings is disingenuous and hypocritical. Billings are total income, not take-home pay. In fact, if Ms. Wynne wants us to report our total income, then I must insist that first, she show hers.

All things considered, both Premier Wynne and her aide may make more than some physicians.

This begs the question: Why does the public even care? Why has physician income become such a hot button topic in the battle over healthcare funding?

After all, the Canadian economy is based on capitalism which celebrates individual achievement. Achievement is measured by education, income, financial freedom and self-actualization. By this yardstick, physicians should not be faulted for living the Canadian dream.

My parents immigrated to Canada, eked out an ordinary living, and instilled in my sisters and I a keen desire to succeed. My mom laboured at a watch factory. One sister worked at McDonalds. Another at Walmart. I myself worked night shifts as a personal care worker. Fifteen years later, I am living the Canadian dream and I am grateful.

I know that the majority of the population works brutally hard to make ends meet. Not that long ago, I was one of them.

So when Health Minister Eric Hoskins implies that physicians are over-indulged, overcompensated and the chief reason why the province's health care budget is in the red -- I see red. After 11 years of training, a $200,000 debt, 60 to 80 hour work weeks, and ongoing sacrifices by my family, I work too hard to be blamed for something that isn't my fault.

Then I understood: the Ontario Liberals are waging psychological warfare. They are clouding public perception by playing on emotion.

Yes, physician earnings have risen since 2003 by 61 per cent trumpets Minister Hoskins.

So did the cost of just about everything else. In 2003, minimum wage in Ontario was $6.85; in 2015, it is $11.25 -- a 64 per cent increase, yet nobody seems particularly electrified by that. And that often-quoted 61 per cent is, in reality, a composite of population growth (1.5 million more Ontarians since 2003), inflation, and a population that is aging and accumulating illnesses rather than an actual raise. Physicians earn more when they work more.

Perhaps you would rather physicians be employees of the Ontario government - well, sign us up! We would love built-in pension plans, maternity leaves, sick benefits, paid vacations, work-place injury protection, health and dental benefits, overtime pay, and best of all, 40-hour work weeks with paid breaks and lunches.

Perhaps you would rather physicians be entirely removed from the government payroll. Dismantle OHIP and make each patient pay for their care just as with dentists, naturopaths or chiropractors. Then none of your taxes will go towards paying physicians - although much of your salary will.

There is suddenly so much chatter about how unmerited physician pay is that it nearly drowns out the very real issue of a government that refuses to pay fully for health-care, a government that is steering the health-care system into crisis. This government is not doing their job.

Ask yourself: who is driving this obsession?

After all, physician compensation did not cause the provincial deficit.

Yes, physician pay is 20 per cent of health care costs, but what about the other 80 per cent?

Yes, 10 per cent of the provincial budget goes to paying physicians, but what about the other 90 per cent?

Why is the government focusing on physician income rather than examining the entirety of the health-care system to find cost-savings measures and areas for improvement?

I'll say it again: physician compensation did not cause the provincial deficit.

Physician pay is not the seedy underbelly of the medical field.

The Ontario Liberals are playing a shell game. They are fear-mongering to keep you from noticing that they are not doing what they were paid to do -- fulfill their fiduciary responsibility to invest in your health-care.

Worse, they are turning you against your physicians; they are shaming them as if Ontario physicians are wrong for actually doing their jobs.

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