Torstar News Service Health Minister Deb Matthews, seen here in a March file photo, has announced changes to fees charged by cardiologists, radiologists and opthamologists.

The cash-strapped Ontario government is slashing some of the fees doctors are paid to save $338.3 million this year.

Health Minister Deb Matthews on Monday announced there would 37 changes to the OHIP fee schedule, including those for services provided by cardiologists, radiologists and opthamologists.

“Our doctors are the best paid in Canada,” said Matthews, whose gambit comes as the province’s bitter negotiations with the Ontario Medical Association, which represents 25,000 doctors, have stalled.

“Instead of another raise for doctors, we need a real wage freeze so we can invest in more home care,” she said.

“To hold the line on doctor pat, we’re making changes to fees for physician services to reflect advances in technology and the latest medical evidence on what helps patients most.”

With 407 specialists billing OHIP more than $1 million each a year, the Liberals believe vast savings can, and must, be found as the province faces a $15-billion deficit.

Fees for cataract surgeries will be cut to $397.75 from $441 — surgeries that took two hours in the 1980s now take 15 minutes thanks to technological improvements — and for eye injections for retinal diseases from $189 to $90 over four years.

Payments for 250 different diagnostic radiology tests, such as X-rays, CT/MRI scans and ultrasound will be reduced by 11 per cent over four years.

Self-referrals — the practice of doctors referring patients back to themselves for additional procedures — will be curbed. Currently $88 million is spent on that, but the government wants that reduced to $44 million.

The 37 changes — which affect several hundred of the 4,500 different OHIP services — are retroactive to April 1.

Matthews noted doctors’ pay has risen an average of 75 per cent since the Liberals were elected in 2003 — from $220,000 to $385,000.

But doctors say she has not been negotiating fairly and they feared an imposed fee regulation.

However, they have repeatedly said they would not stage any job action, such as a strike or working to rule.

The doctors say what Matthews wants amounts to $1 billion in cuts to programs and services.

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