The provincial Tory government is offering to hire a mediator to see if a solution can be reached with optometrists, who have been threatening to stop OHIP-covered services on Sept. 1.
The Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO) has been pressuring the province to increase OHIP fees paid to members since, according to the association, the public insurance money no longer covers the cost of providing the services.
Under the optometrists’ impending action, people up to the age of 19 and those 65 or older needing eye exams would be out of luck. It could also impact some people with eye conditions covered by OHIP.
The OAO points out that provincial law prohibits people from paying for a service that’s covered by OHIP, even through private insurance.
Residents between 20 and 64 years old were delisted from OHIP for optometry services in 2004 unless they were referred by physicians or had one ore more medical conditions.
The bulk of business for optometrists is generated through OHIP patients. The association says an average optometrist’s patient load is 70 per cent OHIP-eligible.
According to the association, OHIP paid $39.15 for an eye exam in 1989 and today it’s an average of $44.65, an increase that “does not come close” to covering an optometrist’s expenses. The provincial government covers an average of 55 per cent of the cost of an OHIP-insured eye exam, with optometrists covering the rest, the OAO says.
The association-set deadline for stopping OHIP services is quickly approaching.
Now the provincial government is calling for the association’s cooperation to reach an agreement so residents can still get optometry services through OHIP.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the two sides restarted talks “concerning our shared commitment to develop 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,” Alexandra Hilkene said in an emailed statement on Friday.
“We understand the frustration that Ontario’s optometrists have historically experienced. Previous governments have failed to build a meaningful relationship with the OAO. The Ministry of Health stands ready to continue meaningful and productive discussions, and our invitation to enter into mediation stands. We are ready to keep talking.”
The OAO had yet to respond to the Health Ministry’s offer to involve a third-party mediator as of Saturday afternoon.