Ontario’s optometrists and Prime Minister Doug Ford’s government are entering into formal negotiations over a funding dispute that has dragged on for nearly three months, with eye doctors agreeing to resume government-funded services for seniors and children in the meantime.
The Ontario Association of Optometrists will “pause” its operations from Tuesday, the group said in a statement, as talks resume with the province. The two sides have made the breakthrough after months of public feuds, with optometrists claiming their services are chronically underfunded and the county accusing ophthalmologists of failing to negotiate.
The ODL, which on September 1, discontinued the Ontario Health Insurance Plan’s services to those 19 and under and 65 and over, has so far left hundreds of thousands of people without access to eye care. Also, thousands of references to cataracts have been canceled.
The association said in comments from Health Secretary Christine Elliott in the Oct. 6 legislature that the government does not expect optometrists to pay “out of pocket” for the services they provide, and is making a “public commitment” to the costs of The services provided by OHIP are not for the account of optometrists.
“The ODL is committed to negotiating a sustainable funding model that aligns with how optometric care is funded in other Canadian jurisdictions,” it said in a statement Monday announcing its return to formal negotiations and OHIP services.
“The ODL expects firm discussions to begin immediately, noting that prompt resolution of this issue is a top priority for both optometrists and their patients.”
Ms Elliott said she was pleased the group agreed to join the government in resuming face-to-face talks.
“As a result of this agreement to resume negotiations, the ODL has informed the Ministry of Health that all OHIP-insured eye and eye care services previously affected by this deadlock will resume as of November 23, 2021. Both sides have also agreed to a media blackout on the subject during these negotiations. The Ministry of Health is at the negotiating table ready to reach a timely and fair agreement on this important issue,” she said in a statement.
The dispute between the ODL and the province revolves around the financing of services covered by the OHIP.
Currently, OHIP pays for eye exams for people 19 and under; those 65 years of age and older; and people with special conditions, such as diabetes, glaucoma, and macular degeneration, for about $45 per exam. But the real cost of an exam is $80, and government funding needs to reach that level, ODL president Sheldon Salaba has said.
The government previously offered a one-time payment of $39 million to the province’s 2,500 optometrists. It also offered to increase OHIP fees to optometrists by 8.48 percent, backdated to April 1, and to immediately call a joint working group to work together to examine overhead costs.
But the ODL has said that’s not nearly enough to make eye care sustainable for optometrists who pay the cost out of pocket.
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