05/13/2012 05:32 EDT | Updated 07/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Ontario Doctors' Pay: McGuinty Urges United Front Among Provinces

TORONTO - Ontario is urging other provinces to stand together on how much they pay doctors, something the head of the province's medical association says smacks of concern about a physician exodus amid a feud about fees.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has sent a letter to fellow premiers calling on them to work together in making better use of things like technology and new drug therapies to cut costs in delivering health care.

"I recognize that each province and territory has its own plans to reform medicare _ and each of us has our own starting point for payment arrangements with doctors," the letter states.

"But I urge you to consider how we might work together through strong, forward-looking reforms _ such as those we are implementing in Ontario."

Technological breakthroughs in areas such as pharmaceuticals, diagnostic imaging and surgical techniques can allow doctors to cover more ground in a day, McGuinty argues.

"It only makes good sense that, when medical breakthroughs allow a physician to greatly increase the number of procedures or surgeries done in a day, the payment made by Canadians to that physician be reconsidered and re-balanced," he writes.

Dr. Doug Weir, president of the Ontario Medical Association, said the letter suggests McGuinty is worried that the nasty spat with doctors might spur them to hang their shingle in another province.

"It’s a clear admission on his part that he’s made Ontario less competitive and he’s worried doctors are either going to leave the province or he’s going to have a hard time attracting doctors to the province,” Weir said in an interview Sunday.

McGuinty is encouraging provinces like Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which are increasing the fees paid to their doctors, to break their agreements, Weir said.

McGuinty's Liberal government indicated earlier this year that it wanted to freeze doctors' pay and the government went further last week, slashing several hundred fees paid to doctors in a revamp of the health insurance system.

The government and the group representing doctors have been unable to reach an agreement on a new fee arrangement.

McGuinty told CTV's Question Period on Sunday that most of the fee changes won't affect doctors and he expressed doubt that physicians will move elsewhere, something Weir disagreed with.

Not only practising doctors, but medical students graduating from Ontario universities will also be disinclined to stay, Weir said.

"That’s the group that’s going to be thinking twice about whether they want to stay in Ontario when they finish medical school, or do they want to go to Alberta, or do they want to go to the United States."

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