'At least cover what it costs us to see a patient': Ontario optometrists withdraw OHIP-covered services

Ontario optometrists have withdrawn provincially insured eye services after a breakdown in talks with the provincial government over reimbursement of costs.

The province's health plan covers annual eye exams for residents aged 19 and under, 65 and older, and people with specific health conditions.

That’s affecting seniors like Lorraine Laframboise of Orléans, who has issues with her eyes, including Glaucoma.

“My eye pressure could go up, and I could become blind because glaucoma is a serious disease of the eye,” she tells CTV News Ottawa.

Laframboise says she requires regular visits to the optometrist.

She’s concerned about her eye health and enjoys looking at the flowers in her backyard.

“The garden is my little oasis in the summer time and I would be devastated if I lose my eye sight and cannot admire God's creation in my own backyard.”

Dr. Wes McCann is an optometrist and former board member with the Ontario Association of Optometrists.

“We have two asks from the Ministry (of Health)—one is to sit down and have a contract with us and number two is to at least cover our chair costs—at least cover what it costs us to see a patient.”

McCann says the job action is a result of three decades of underfunding.

“If you look at other provinces across Canada, we are the lowest publicly funded province in the Canada, by a mile.”

He says his office is reimbursed $47 from the province for a seniors’ eye exam, and according to him, compares that to $77.18 in Manitoba, $106.90 in Quebec and $137.02 in Alberta.

“In our office, that is supposed to cover all of my staff, all of our equipment costs, our rent subsidy and everything else.”

Reimbursement for those under 19, he says, is slightly lower.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, the Health Minister Christine Elliot writes, “I want to be clear that our government will continue to fund these optometry services through OHIP. Any decision to withdraw services is the decision of individual optometrists.”

A spokesperson for the ministry says that a third-party mediator has been brought in but there is no agreement yet.

Lafromboise is sympathetic to the optometrists and wants this resolved.

“They need their justice, and they need the respect that they deserve.”

-- With files from The Canadian Press.