Optometrists to withdraw OHIP-covered services today after breakdown in govt talks

In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017, photo, Optometrist Linda Morgan uses a phoropter to help determine a prescription for Liberty Elementary School student Brooklyn Richotte during a vision screening in Omaha, Neb. (Megan Farmer/Omaha World-Herald via AP)

Ontario optometrists are set to withdraw provincially insured eye services starting today 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.

The head of the Ontario Association of Optometrists said starting today, optometrists will call affected patients to cancel appointments and place them on waiting lists.

Dr. Sheldon Salaba says his group's members are currently paying for around 45 per cent of those services and says the job action comes after disappointing talks on the issue with the government.

He says there will be a delay in service for people covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan until talks resume.

However, he says people should still contact optometrists with emergencies for help reaching a family doctor or another health-care setting.

"We are going to help them navigate, depending on what is happening to them, the best option for them to receive care," Salaba said in an interview.

The province has offered to pay optometrists $39 million to retroactively account for increased costs of services.

It has also offered to increase reimbursement by 8.48 per cent.

Salaba says optometrists want an increase of 70 per cent to close the gap.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government will continue funding the affected services, and "any decision to withdraw services is the decision of individual optometrists."

"The offer on the table is an extremely fair and reasonable one, and we urge the Ontario Association of Optometrists to commit to working with us to reach an agreement to ensure Ontarians continue to access the care they need and deserve," Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement.

The province said approximately 2.9 million Ontario residents received provincially insured optometry services in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 1, 2021.