Ontario’s optometrists have a dim view of the way the government currently funds eye care.
So much so, they are planning to collectively withdraw OHIP funded services from seniors and youth on Sept. 1.
“We are hoping it’s not going to come to that,” said Windsor optometrist Dr. John Mastronardi last week, adding that Ontario’s elected government officials “need to come to the table” to negotiate with the province’s optometrists.
Mastronardi, who worked in Chatham-Kent for five years, said 96 per cent of the 2,500-member Ontario Association of Optometrists has voted in favour of taking action.
Currently, the province pays $44 in OHIP funding for eye exams for younger people up to age 19, and for those over age 65.
Adults from the ages of 20 to 65 pay for the cost of an exam out of pocket, or through insurance, which ranges from $100 to $120.
OHIP also funds exams for people with special conditions that could affect vision, such as diabetes, glaucoma and cataracts.
But while the cost of running a business has continued to climb, Ontario optometrists have only received a $5 raise per eye exam in the past 32 years.
Mastronardi admits the withdrawal of services disproportionately affects seniors, but he said Ontario’s optometrists will continue to make themselves available for emergencies.
“We’ve taken an oath to care for the public and we will tend to emergency cases,” he said.
However, Mastronardi stressed primary care is a better option because “prevention is where it’s at,” adding seniors generally require more time because they have more complex conditions.
Ten years ago, the association commissioned a study, which set the baseline cost of an eye exam at $70, which in effect, means optometrists, are subsidizing Ontario’s eye-care system.
Mastronardi said members of the association have tried to sit down with government for years to negotiate a new deal, but no progress has been made.
It hasn’t made any difference what government party has been in power, he explained, adding none of the parties have stepped up to help in more than three decades.
The doctor said optometrists would like to be afforded the same respect as other groups such as the Ontario Medical Association, which has a formal negotiation process with the government, but because they are small, he said the group’s concerns have been sidelined.
“We have not had formal talks regarding OHIP funding in over 32 years,” he said.
Mastronardi said the association has “tried every channel” to get the government to come to the table, adding the withdrawal of services is a last-ditch effort.
“Until we do this, it’s never going to get addressed,” he said.
A new study to determine the 2021 cost of an eye exam is now underway. The association said it hopes to have the results before September.
The optometrists are seeking a formal negotiation process with the government, along with a commitment to fund the cost of the delivery of service.
Citizens wishing to support the province’s optometrists are invited to sign a petition at saveeyecare.ca.
Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice