Eye exams back on Tuesday as Ontario and optometrists agree to talks

Eye exams for children, seniors and social assistance recipients will resume on Tuesday as optometrists and the province agree to begin formal negotiations to settle a long-standing dispute over benefits paid under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

In a “sign of good faith,” the Ontario Association of Optometrists said Monday it will “cease its work on September 1,” resulting in canceled exams at a rate of 15,000 per day for people entitled to coverage for them under OHIP.

Most optometrists stopped performing the government-funded exams to meet demands for better pay, saying provincial health insurance pays $44 for services that cost nearly $80 to perform. Optometrists have been without a contract since 2011.

The dispute has left hundreds of thousands of people without the eye care they need, including many with impaired vision and nowhere to go because it is illegal for optometrists to charge for a service covered by provincial health insurance.

“Quick resolution of this problem is a top priority for both optometrists and their patients,” the association said in a statement, calling for “robust conversations to begin immediately” to move toward a “sustainable financing model.”

Health Secretary Christine Elliott said she is “pleased” that face-to-face negotiations with the services will resume and talks will be held amid a media blackout.

“The Ministry of Health is at the negotiating table ready to reach a timely and fair agreement on this important issue.”

It will take time to clear the backlog of missed appointments and examinations.

The new development in negotiations comes less than two weeks after optometrist and progressive conservative MPP Gila Martow (Thornhill) accused Prime Minister Doug Ford’s government of “tough tactics” in the deadlock.

While she has acknowledged that optometrists have been “treated unjustly by previous governments,” Elliott has said the claim that eye exams cost nearly $80 to perform requires verification.

Optometrists say the fee paid for exams has increased by just $5 since 1989, trapping them for inflation and rising overheads such as rent, equipment, and clinic staff.

The province has previously offered an 8.49 percent increase to about $48, and has provided $39 million to Ontario’s 2,500 optometrists, intended to retroactively cover the past ten years.

Optometrists say payment sounds a lot more generous than it is, as the money is just over $1 for each of the 24 million exams conducted over the 10-year period.

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