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OHIP no longer covering eye exams after provincial inaction to negotiate

A patient sits in an optometrist’s chair as a phoropter is dialed in to test different lenses on each eye during an eye exam. Photo by Ksenia Chernaya.

On Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, the Ontario Association of Optometrists announced that eye care coverage under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) will cease due to the provincial government’s inaction to negotiate. 

According to an estimate shared by the Ontario Association of Optometrists, for 32 years, the Ontario government has refused to pay the costs to deliver eye care services, forcing optometrists to pay out of pocket to examine OHIP-insured patients.

“We want a long-term, sustainable solution so Ontario residents can continue to access quality eye care in a timely fashion. This is something that is further in jeopardy with the ongoing pandemic and limited in-person access to family physicians and the hospitals,” said Dr. Tiffany Nazareth, local optometrist and Ontario Association of Optometrists’ Ambassador to the Kingston Region. 

It wasn’t until there was intense public pressure that the provincial government finally reached out at the 11th hour. According to the Ontario Association of Optometrists, this ongoing government neglect has led to publicly insured eye exams in Ontario being funded at the lowest level in the country. To reach the next lowest province, the government would need to increase fees in Ontario by 70 per cent.

Dr. Sheldon Salaba, President of the Ontario Association of Optometrists, shared in a statement, “As doctors, it is our number one priority to advocate and defend our patients’ right to quality healthcare.”

The current announcement affects OHIP-covered patients aged between 0-19, those 65+, and people living with specific eye conditions or diabetes. In 1989, the OHIP coverage for eye exams was approximately $39.15. Thirty-two years later, in 2021, the coverage by the Ontario government through OHIP ranges around $44.65. The association is asking the government to prioritize eye healthcare by closing the gap between the funding and rate of inflation over the years. 

“If a patient has an ocular or visual concern, their optometrist will ensure that the patient is referred to the best, alternative provider for care outside of our offices,” said Dr. Nazareth. 

While optometrists are aware of the inconvenience this may cause, the government has left them with no other choice to address this chronic underfunding issue.

“Optometrists in Kingston would much rather be taking care of patients than be involved in job action; however, how the government funds and values eye care is not acceptable. We want to be able to offer the level of care that our patients expect and deserve,” said Dr. Nazareth.

Advocates for further provincial investment in eye care said patients impacted by not having access to OHIP optometry services should call their MPP directly (Ian Arthur, in Kingston) to let them know how vital these services are and that the government must commit to adequately fund eye care today and in the future.

At the municipal level, Kingston City Council will address the matter of funding for eye care at their meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. New motion 3 in the meeting’s agenda will seek to have “the City Council of Kingston add its voice to the many cities, institutions and people calling on the Provincial government to enter into good faith formal negotiations with the Ontario Association of Optometrists, with the goal of bringing service and funding levels in optometry in Ontario up to more equitable levels with the rest of Canada.” Moved by Councillor Jeff McLaren, the motion also directs that the resolution, if passed, be shared with Premier Doug Ford, Health Minister Christine Elliott, and Kingston and the Islands MPP Ian Arthur.

For further information on the campaign to equalize eye care coverage across Canada by bringing Ontario’s coverage more in line with that provided in other provinces, click here.

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