Ontario government and optometrists can't see eye to eye, deadline looms on funding dispute

Ontario’s optometrists are in a battle with the province over OHIP funding and if they don’t get what they want they have threatened to withdraw their services on September 1st.

“We really feel like we've been pushed up against the wall and we don't have any other choice," Dr. Sheldon Salaba, the president of the Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO),

OAO says Ontario optometrists are the lowest paid in the country and that OHIP has underfunded eye exams for decades.

According to the OAO, the Ontario government covered an average of $39.15 per eye test in 1989. Thirty-two years later, they're covering $44.65 — only about $5 more.

Optometrists say during that time staff salaries, operating costs and utilities have gone up dramatically.

The OAO said if it withdraws services on September 1st it will affect patients under 20, over 65 and adults with eye conditions.

“We provide over six million eye exams annually in the province and over four million of them are OHIP insured, so OHIP patients make up about 70 per cent of the people we see in our practices,” Salaba said.

When asked for a statement, Ontario’s Ministry of Health told CTV News Toronto that the ministry “values the ongoing commitment of optometrists to provide high-quality eye health and vision care for Ontarians as the province continues to fight COVID-19.”

A ministry spokesperson said “the Ministry and the Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO) have resumed discussions concerning our shared commitment to developing a plan that is fair, sustainable and effective in supporting the province’s optometrists in delivering high-quality care to Ontarians now and into the future.”

“To that end, today the Ministry proposed to engage a third-party expert mediator to assist us in finding a resolution and the OAO is considering this option.”

While the Health Ministry told CTV News Toronto that it’s willing to appoint a mediator to bring an end to the dispute and is “ready to keep talking,” the two sides remain far apart.

The OAO has a SaveEyeCare campaign and says that over 100,000 people have emailed and sent letters asking the government to reach a fair settlement.

On its website, it has a countdown clock to September 1st, stating that time is running out.

“We hope that they are committed to actually fully funding the operating costs for these services for these people and that they open a formal negotiation as they do with other health care providers in the province,” Salaba said.

If eye doctors withdraw their services, patients would not be able to pay for eye exams even if they wanted to as there is a law that prohibits patients from paying for a service that's covered by OHIP.