10/29/2015 08:28 EDT | Updated 10/29/2015 08:59 EDT

Ontario Medical Association Sues Government Over Cuts To Doctors' Fees

The health minister argued Ontario's doctors are among the best-paid in the country with an average salary of more than $358,000.

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TORONTO — The Ontario Medical Association is suing the Ontario government over recent reductions in fees paid to the province's doctors.

The physicians lobby group launched a constitutional charter challenge on Thursday, saying the latest cuts will compromise patient care across Ontario.

The government has cut funding for physician services by a total of 6.9 per cent since February.

Health Minister Eric Hoskins argues that Ontario's doctors are among the best-paid in the country with an average salary of more than $358,000.

Hoskins said Thursday he is disappointed the OMA has chosen to litigate, adding that fee cuts were needed so more money could be invested in home and community care, supports for mental health, and other areas.

But the OMA's challenge asserts that the fee cuts are unfair to doctors and risk leaving patients without necessary care.

The association is asking the court to declare that physicians have a constitutional right to a binding dispute mechanism for disputes over compensation issues.

"Ontario's doctors put their patients first every day and that's why we've been working hard to resolve this dispute with government," OMA president Mike Toth said in a statement. "Today's action is a way to find an immediate solution that protects patient-focused care."

The OMA said the government's fee cuts come as the number of new patients in Ontario jumps by 140,000 every year with a growing and aging population, and an estimated 800,000 Ontarians still don't have a family doctor.

Hoskins said the province and the OMA went through a year of negotiations including mediation and conciliation before the government opted to impose a new contract because the doctors didn't like the ruling from conciliator Warren Winkler, Ontario's former chief justice.

"I am disappointed that the OMA has chosen not to continue our discussions,'' Hoskins said in a statement. "Instead, the OMA seems to want to litigate. We remain committed to a constructive discussion with the OMA should they wish to pursue that avenue."

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