Ottawa woman petitions Queen’s Park for OHIP coverage of eyesight-saving surgery

An Ottawa woman, who makes her living helping others with their eyesight, will soon be blind, if she doesn’t undergo a costly surgery that will save her sight.

Michelle Boich is a Canadian Certified Optometric Assistant, who has recently been diagnosed with keratoconus, a disease which causes a thinning of the cornea and will lead to blindness if not treated.

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s The Evan Solomon Show, Boich says there is a procedure that can strengthen her corneas called corneal collagen cross-linking, or CXL, but it’s expensive.

“I was referred to a private clinic and they told me a ballpark estimate to have both of my eyes done by the CXL procedure would be six-thousand dollars,” she says, “so, three-thousand per eye.”

CXL is not covered by OHIP. If Boich lived just across the river, in Gatineau, her surgery would be funded 100% by Quebec’s provincial health care plan. Quebec is one of six provinces and territories that do cover the cost of CXL procedures.

Boich says, instead, Ontario will fund corneal replacement surgery.

“For me to eventually get that point I would lose my eyesight, I would become government-dependent, I wouldn’t be able to drive,” she says. “I would be on government assistance to be able to get through the time period to get my corneal transplant.”

As Boich points out, corneal replacement is an organ transplant, which means the body might reject it. She says some people need multiple corneal transplants in their lifetime.

The Kensington Eye Institute in Toronto does cover CXL surgery free of cost to certain OHIP-covered people, but Boich says it’s not a blanket offer.

“They will fund $800,000 a year for 400 patients to be covered, but you’ll have to fit within their criteria to be part of the project. I, unfortunately, do not fit within their criteria, so I would not be able to have this covered.”

Boich launched a change.org petition calling on the Ontario government to offer OHIP coverage for CXL.

“This is not an elective surgery. I was born with a degenerative eye disease that will cause me to go blind unless I pay for this laser surgery to stabilize my corneal tissue and prevent further thinning and damage,” her petition says.

She tells The Evan Solomon Show the petition isn’t about getting her own surgery covered. She’s advocating for others.

“I’m an eye-care professional and I advocate for other people to have eyesight and to be able to function in their own lives,” she says. “I will put myself into debt, I’ll do whatever I can to save my own eyesight because, to me, it’s priceless, and I don’t want to become government-dependent, but there are people who don’t have resources and really don’t have any sort of financial help and that’s who my petition is for.”

A crowdfunding page to help cover the cost of Boich’s surgery was launched by a friend last month.

Boich says she plans on taking her petition right to Queen’s Park if she has to.

“The Kensington report has shown that yes, it should be covered under OHIP, but now it’s in the logistics of the government to figure out how this is going to play out and, of course, the government can take a really long time so I’m going to fast-track this,” she says. “I’m going to take this as far as I can and every signature helps get me there.”