Kitchener-Waterloo

Local politicians call on province to negotiate with optometrists before services are withdrawn

Ontario's optometrists have said they will withdraw services provided under OHIP, including eye exams, if the provincial government won't increase how much it pays for the services. Now, local politicians are calling for the province to negotiate before the Sept. 1 deadline.

'If you do nothing, nothing is going to happen,' says Cambridge Coun. Donna Reid

The Ontario Association of Optometrists says there's been more than 30 years of underfunding when it comes to services like eye exams for children and seniors. It says it will withdraw OHIP services as of Sept. 1. That has local politicians calling on the provincial government to negotiate with the association to ensure that doesn't happen. (Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

Some local politicians are calling on the Ontario government to negotiate with optometrists, who say they will withdraw OHIP services as of September 1 unless the province agrees to fund them.

The Ontario Association of Optometrists says there's been more than 30 years of underfunding when it comes to services like eye exams for children and seniors.

In a release in March, the association said that the province covers just "55 per cent of the cost of an OHIP-insured eye exam, leaving optometrists' clinics to absorb the other 45 per cent."

Cambridge Coun. Donna Reid also sits on the Cambridge Council on Aging and says the issue came up at one of their meetings.

She's bringing a motion to council Tuesday morning that, if passed, would see the city send a letter to the province to tell the government "to recognize the value of access for Ontarians to quality eye care and act now to protect it."

The motion also calls on the province to begin a formal negotiation process.

"We felt that it needed to be more widely discussed and we needed to have some people who were prepared to say this isn't right and we need the province to start negotiating with the optometrists," Reid said in an interview Monday. 

"So I took it from that to city council to say, OK, let's see if the council will join in this fight."

People 'deeply concerned'

Reid is not alone in calling for the provincial government to address this issue before services are withdrawn. Green Party of Ontario Leader and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner says he's been hearing about this problem from optometrists for months.

Now that the news has made headlines, he says his office is hearing regularly through emails and calls from people "deeply concerned about their ability to access eye care."

Schreiner says as a person who wears glasses, he's concerned, too.

"This is a problem that's been growing for decades now and it's time for the government to provide fair compensation to optometrists so that people can access the eye care they need," he said.

"They're not even asking to make money at it. They're just saying, hey, let's negotiate something that covers our costs," he added. "For the government not to engage in good faith negotiations is just wrong."

Optometrists expected to deliver care

The province says "any decision to withdraw optometry services is the decision of the Optometrists Association of Ontario alone."

In an emailed statement to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, Ministry of Health spokesperson Bill Campbell said the province "will continue to fund OHIP optometry services and that funding continues to increase year-over-year with utilization."

"The Ministry of Health continues to be in discussions with the Ontario Association of Optometrists on the provision of OHIP insured optometry services. Discussions are focused on evidence, best practices and how to improve patient outcomes. The ministry will continue to put the patient at the centre of the discussion," Campbell said.

"Our government is committed to working with Ontario's health care providers with a goal to support improved patient outcomes. We also expect optometrists to continue to deliver the quality care that patients expect and deserve, as they always have."

Reid says she hopes if Cambridge council sends a letter, it may encourage more municipalities and individuals to speak up to the province to have the two sides work out some kind of negotiation.

Reid says the province usually responds to letters like these from the city but she said even if they don't get a response, it's more important to let the Ontario government know their stance.

"If you do nothing, nothing is going to happen," she said.

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