Ont. optometrist explains job action, and why OHIP eye exams aren’t being offered

Wednesday marks Day 1 of job action by the Ontario Association of Optometrists.

Officials with the group said it was sparked by three decades of being underfunded.

"When we look back to 1989, the government funded $39 towards an eye exam," said Wes McCann, an optometrist from London, Ont. "Thirty-two years later in 2021 the government funds $44 on average towards an eye exam. So in 32 years, that’s changed $5 on average, so it's just not a sustainable solution."

"I mean we see more seniors every day," McCann continued. "In the last 30 years, the senior population has grown by 70 per cent. So we see more and more patients who are covered by OHIP every year and for us to see those patients at a loss every time is not sustainable."

He said on average it costs optometrists $80 just to see a patient, and his group wants to see that gap closed.

"There’s a huge deficit there that the government isn’t covering and neglecting and is making no effort whatsoever to make that cost of delivery," McCann said.

"So what we’ve been asking from the government is at a minimum at least cover that cost of delivery so that the optometrists aren’t paying out of pocket."

Health Minister Christine Elliot said her government is making every effort possible to lay the foundation for a long-term relationship with the Ontario Association of Optometrists.

"This includes engaging a third-party mediator to assist us in reaching an agreement and offering a one-time lump sum payment as well as an immediate OHIP fee increase," Elliot said in a statement. "This represents a significant and sustainable increase in today’s highly-constrained fiscal environment.

While we had hoped that these discussions would lead to a positive outcome, we are extremely disappointed in the OAO’s decision to decline to resume mediation, as well as the OAO’s encouragement of Ontario’s optometrists to withdraw services, starting today, that many vulnerable Ontarians rely on. To do so as Ontario faces the fourth wave of the pandemic is unconscionable.

Despite the OAO maintaining they are at the table, it’s unclear what table they are sitting at given they have declined the mediator’s conditions. We await a change of heart from the OAO.”

While job action is ongoing, those who are eligible for OHIP services don’t have the option to pay out of pocket to get an eye exam. McCann has said the government has made that illegal for providers to do.

Elliot said the government continues to fund these services and that any decision to withdraw services is the decision of each provider.