Ottawa

Optometrist dispute has Ottawa patients eyeballing Quebec clinics

Quebec optometrists say they're fielding dozens of calls from Ontario patients looking for appointments amidst the ongoing reimbursement dispute between the Ontario government and its eye doctors.

'I can only feel for someone in Toronto right now or central Ontario'

Patients in Ottawa and eastern Ontario struggling to see an optometrist in the province are increasingly looking to Quebec to access services, eye doctors there say. (Associated Press)

Quebec optometrists say they're fielding dozens of calls from Ontario patients looking for appointments amidst the dispute between the Ontario government and its eye doctors.

In September, 98 per cent of optometrists began withholding services from some of the 2.9 million patients covered for eye care under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), which includes kids under 19, people 65 and older and people with certain eye conditions.

The dispute involves how much optometrists should be reimbursed by the province for eye services covered by OHIP. The current rate is the lowest in Canada.

Since Ontario's legislation doesn't allow these affected patients to pay for services with private insurance, some have been looking across provincial borders for appointments.

"We don't see a lot of patients from Ontario, usually," said Gatineau, Que., eye doctor Marie-Josee Deschamps.

As the dispute drags on, Deschamps said her clinic has been fielding dozens of calls from Ontario patients every week.

While her office has been able to book some appointments for those callers over the next few months, Deschamps said their schedule is already "really busy right now with only our patients."

Waiting not an option, say patients

CBC spoke to several other optometrists in Quebec who all confirmed they've increasingly heard from Ontario patients trying to see an eye doctor — including Ottawans like Julie Tam and Ryan Gagnon Macaleese.

Tam's 11-year-old daughter recently started experiencing headaches and was struggling to see the board at school. When Tam tried to make an appointment with her optometrist, she was turned away — even after offering to pay for the service.

The Orléans family waited several weeks to see if the province and optometrists would reach a deal, but Tam said eventually she felt there was no choice but to see an eye doctor in Gatineau.

Julie Tam, right, made an appointment for an eye exam for her 11-year-old daughter Naomi in Gatineau after she was experiencing headaches in school. (Submitted by Julie Tam)

"At the end of the day I had to put the health of my daughter first," she said. "And as much as I support the job action that's going on, first and foremost, it is my daughter I care about."

Gagnon Macaleese recently made the trip across the river himself for an eye appointment.

Gagnon Macaleese is diabetic, which requires him to get an eye exam every year. He also said he supports the optometrists in the dispute, but waiting for it to end wasn't an option.

"I can only feel for someone in Toronto right now or central Ontario that doesn't have a border sharing with them," he said

"If we didn't have Quebec as close as it is to us ... I would be pretty upset. I'd probably do the road trip because this is ridiculous." 

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