This past Wednesday at City Council I put forward a motion, seconded by my colleague Councillor Catherine McKenney, asking Council to add its voice to the other municipalities, institutions and people that are calling on the Ontario Government to address the chronic underfunding of eye care. The motion, passed on unanimous consent, requests that the government 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.
As of Sept 1, 2021, OHIP insured eye exams are no longer available across Ontario. This includes eye exams for children 19 and under, 20-64 OHIP insured medical conditions, 65 and over, Ontario Works, and those on Ontario Disability Support Program.
The Ontario Association of Optometrists estimates that up to 15,000 fewer eye exams are taking place each day after optometrists have withdrawn this service. The Commitment to the Future of Medicare Act 2014 states doctors cannot charge a patient any amount for medically necessary insured services covered by OHIP. Since OHIP insured patients cannot pay for their eye exam due to this provincial law in effect, all eye care services are now halted until negotiations can be resolved.
Ontario optometrists are the lowest paid in Canada. For example, the funding for seniors’ eye exams would have to increase by more than 70% to reach the next lowest-funded province, Manitoba, at $77, and by more than 125% to reach Québec, at $106. The Ontario government only covers on average $45 for an eye exam. This barely meets the overhead cost of seeing a patient, which includes compensating the doctor, paying staff, rent, equipment and other operating costs, all of which are continually rising.
The withdrawal of services from all OHIP insured patients will continue until the Ontario government commits to covering the basic cost of delivering an eye exam and ensuring Ontario optometrists are no longer the lowest paid optometrists in the country. Recently the Ontario government offered to increase compensation by 8% and offered $39 million dollars as retroactive pay for the past 10 years. Unfortunately, the 8% increase only brings them to $48 per eye exam which is still well behind the next lowest funded province, Manitoba, at $77. The $39 million, although seems like a lot, would amount to approximately just over $1 per exam in the last 10 years as optometrists have performed nearly $35 million OHIP insured eye exams in that time. Optometrists want a sustainable solution going forward to secure OHIP insured eye exams for all eligible Ottawans and Ontarians. Although it is the province that needs to fix the issue, the underfunding of eye care affects municipalities too.
To date, 20 municipalities have passed motions to urge government to establish a timeline to solve the chronic underfunding of OHIP eye care services. The motion I put forward on Wednesday is do the same so that residents of Ottawa can continue to access eye care.