Ontario optometrists are pausing a job action today as a “sign of good faith” in formal negotiations with the provincial government over better payments. After more than two months of refusal, they are now taking the provincial health insurance appointments for children, seniors and social assistance recipients.
Approximately 15,000 Ontarians entitled for coverage under the OHIP have been left without eye care since September 1st, according to the Ontario Association of Optometrists. And under province law, optometrists aren’t allowed to charge for a service provided under provincial health insurance.
The association hasn’t seen a new agreement since 2011. Now, optometrists say that the $44 provincial insurance payment isn’t enough to cover an exam that costs $80 to perform. The professional association says it needs at least a 65% increase to reach the same funding as the next lowest-funded province, Manitoba.
So far, the government has offered a reimbursement increase of 8.49%. That would make the OHIP payment of $48 dollars and still require the optometrists to absorb the other $32. The province also offered $39 million dollars to retroactively pay for the increased cost of service.
Optometrists argue the offer sounds better than it actually is since it represents only $1 for each of the 24 million eye exams performed over the last 10 years.
In the Toronto Sun, the Ontario Minister of Health, Christine Elliott wrote that her “goal remains to arrive at a solution that would support the province’s 2,500 optometrists in delivering high-quality care for patients, both now and into the future.” She says the $80 dollar estimate cost still needs verification, but the current deal from the government is “fair and reasonable”.
In a public statement, the optometrist’s association said it “is committed to negotiating a sustainable funding model that aligns with how optometric care is funded in other Canadian jurisdictions.”
The pause has no end date yet, but negotiations continue between the OAO and the provincial Ministry of Health.