Doctors approve new funding deal amid protest

Faction opposed latest division of medical cash by BCMA and province

B.C. doctors have voted to ratify a new four-year master agreement with the province.

The B.C. Medical Association said the deal provides $100 million to continue and expand medical programs until 2014 as well as a “modest” lift in doctors’ fees to cover their overhead costs.

The fee increase is 0.5 per cent in each of the next two years and would be renegotiated for the final two years of the agreement.

It also expands various incentives for family practice doctors to develop care plans for complex care, chronic disease and mental health patients and to increase access to family doctors.

But the 92 per cent vote in favour is being contested by a faction of physicians who don’t like how the pot of medical funding is being divided.

Those opposed say the outcome is illegitimate because most members didn’t vote and a further 3,000 to 4,000 non-BCMA members couldn’t vote.

Dr. Zafar Essak said the agreement will expand the health care bureaucracy and muzzle doctors, who will be barred from speaking up for patients without approval of government officials.

“Most doctors are fed up and want to hold the government and the BCMA accountable for the current crisis in our health care system,” Essak said.

Also unhapppy is the B.C. Anesthesiologists’ Society, which campaigned for higher pay for its members and went to the brink of a service withdrawal this spring to try to win the right to bargain separately from the BCMA.

BCAS executive director Dr. Roland Orfaly said wait lists have grown longer despite greatly increased funding funnelled through the BCMA – now more than $3.6 billion a year.

“It’s been a colossal failure at the taxpayers’ expense and simply pouring more money into a dysfunctional BCMA process is not going to make the problem go away,” he said.

BCMA officials contend specialist groups like the anesthesiologists, who got much more rapid fee increases than most doctors in past years, are simply irked because their pay is no longer rising as fast under the latest apportionment between physician groups.

“They’ve had quite a few increases,” BCMA president Dr. Shelley Ross said.

“In tough economic times you’re not going to get as much as you want.”

She said anesthesiologists also benefit from one key gain negotiated in the new deal – an extra $20 million to recruit and retain specialists.

Ross said spending of that money will be overseen by independent arbitrators, not the BCMA.