Optometrists forced to take action

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For many seniors, as well as those who deal with Diabetes, Glaucoma, and Macular Degeneration, the annual free eye exam they receive under OHIP from their local optometrist is an important part of dealing with their conditions. That service is now in real jeopardy, as optometrists find themselves having to take action to force the Ontario Government to properly fund their role in the system. As of September 1, Ontario Optometrists will cease to, as they see it, subsidize OHIP insured eye exams.

This is not a last-minute decision by these professionals. Last April, the Times reported their plans to take this action, but nothing has been done by the Province to deal with their issues.

According to the Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO), the Province’s 2,500 optometrists provide over four million OHIP exams every year. This includes services for children, seniors and adults with disabilities. Only 55% of the cost of these exams is actually paid for by OHIP, leaving optometrists to cover the other 45%.

OAO statistics show that in 1989, the Ontario Government paid $39.15 for an eye exam. In 2021, 32 years later, they pay an average of $44.65. This amount does not cover the cost (including rent, staff, utilities, equipment, taxes and supplies) to provide an eye exam. Optometrists point out that “for more than 30 years, the Ontario Government has failed to adequately fund eye care. For more than 30 years, the Ontario Government has refused to formally negotiate with optometrists”.

When asked for comments about this issue, the two local MPPs, Steve Clark and Jim McDonnell, issued almost identical statements to the Times.

“We are actively engaged in discussions with the Ontario Association of Optometrists. The discussions are focused on how to improve patient outcomes based on evidence and best practices. Our government will continue to fund OHIP optometry services, and that funding continues to increase year-over-year with utilization”, said Jim McDonell, MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry.

Steve Clark, MPP for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, issued this statement: “Our government will continue to fund OHIP optometry services and that funding continues to increase year-over-year with utilization. The Ministry of Health has been actively engaged in discussions with the Ontario Association of Optometrists. Discussions are focused on evidence, best practices and how to improve patient outcomes.”

The OAO also issued a statement: “The Ontario government can still fix this before September 1. They only need to commit to a formal negotiation that will lead to a solution for the chronic under funding.

If you want to help save Ontario eye care and ensure that access to your doctor is not at risk, please visit SaveEyeCare.ca to send a letter to your MPP. We are hopeful that our fellow Ontarians will rally together to help protect eye care access for our seniors and children. Every day optometrists take pride in helping our patients see clearly and preventing blindness. But today we need your help”.

The problem for patients is that although the OAO will no longer do eye exams under OHIP, the OHIP program remains in place. This means that patients cannot access this service because optometrists are not allowed, by law, to accept payment for services provided under OHIP. So patients cannot pay to have an eye exam.

Routine eye care is critical in early detection of eye diseases like glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration. The lack of funding makes it difficult to invest in modern technology. Newer technology means earlier detection. 80% of learning is done through vision and children depend on healthy eyes to succeed in school. The health of your eyes is critical to your overall health and quality of life.

At the very least, can we expect our provincial representatives, both of whom are members of the governing party in Ontario, and one of whom is in the Cabinet, to initiate negotiations, if only to prevent the loss of this essential service on September 1?

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