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Local optometrists have sights set on additional funding for eye care

'It’s been about 30 years since there’s been any kind of appreciable increase to the funding,' says Midhurst doctor
2021-10-25 NC Optometrist strike
Dr. Naghmeh Thompson is one of the nearly 2,000 Ontario optometrists fighting to get the provincial government to provide additional funding for OHIP-covered eye care.

It’s been nearly two months since optometrists across the province withdrew provincially insured eye services  including eye exams for children and seniors  in a funding dispute with the government.

On Sept. 1, the nearly 2,000 optometrists across the province withdrew services for patients that were covered by OHIP, including anyone under the age of 19, over 65, and patients with certain medical conditions.

“This has been a long-term situation. It’s not something that’s come about because of COVID. … It’s been about 30 years since there’s been any kind of appreciable increase to the funding,” said Dr. Naghmeh Thompson, owner of Midhurst Family Eye Care.

“The concern is that it isn't sustainable moving forward. We want to make sure that all of our patients have access to high-quality care today and in the future, so we’re hoping the government will work with us to come up with a long term solution.”

Thompson told BarrieToday the government only covers up to 50 per cent of the costs associated with delivering an eye exam, with optometrists being forced to pay the remaining costs out of pocket each time they would see a patient whose eye care was covered under OHIP.

“It’s not sustainable, and we won’t be able to pay our staff, rent, utilities, technology," she added. 

Another issue, which Thompson says patients have been asking about, is why they aren’t able to pay for care through their own insurance if OHIP doesn’t cover it all. The reason, she explained, is due to provincial legislation called the Commitment to Future Medicare Act, which prohibits optometrists from accepting private payment or third-party insurance in the case of publicly funded health care.

“It’s a frustrating situation, because right now we need the government to come and work with us to develop a plan, but we haven’t heard anything from them. There was eight months of radio silence before they approached us in August… and to this day we haven’t heard anything about it," the optometrist added. 

Heather McIntosh, who is the mother of two school-aged children, told BarrieToday she was surprised when she learned the government was not covering the full amount of OHIP-covered visits.

“You’d think it would be a fair amount that covers the cost of the doctor at least. Everyone deserves a fair wage for the work they do,” she said. "I was surprised to see it was so under-funded.”

McIntosh takes her children for an annual eye exam and says her son was diagnosed with an eye condition several years ago after it was detected by his optometrist during a routine checkup.

“He goes every six months down to Toronto to get it looked at, so I am just really thankful for family eye care, because without the general health exam, we would never have caught it," she said. "Now he is in good care with an opthamologist, but it was Dr. Thompson’s regular checkup that caught it.

“For us, it’s really important to have those health exams every year.”

Maintaining healthy vision is just as important as ensuring any other aspects of our health, from seeing a family doctor to visiting the dentist, McIntosh acknowledged. 

“It’s such an important part of our daily lives and we want to make sure that we are taking care of it,” she said. “Kids are growing so quickly and things can change so fast in their bodies so it’s important to have access to that when you need it.”

In 1989, Ontario optometrists were being paid $39.15. More than three decades later, that has increased to $44, which Thompson says is still well below their costs. Thompson says it costs an optometrist approximately $80 to deliver an eye exam, noting Ontario optometrists are also the lowest funded in the country.

Ontario optometrists also want the government to commit to a legally binding negotiation process  similar to nurses or physicians  so they don’t find themselves back in the same spot 15 years from now, she added.

“It’s a frustrating situation and heart-breaking. I don’t like saying no. I am just hopeful this will get resolved soon. The good thing is patients are supportive, which is great, but we still need the government to work with us so we can get this resolved,” Thompson said.

“Eye care is important. Routine eye exams can pick up a lot of different eye diseases. We do more than just glasses. We do medical optometry, preventative care, so there could be a lot of patients that have pre-existing conditions that need to be followed up closely," she said. 

About the Author: Nikki Cole

Nikki Cole has been a community issues reporter for BarrieToday since February, 2021
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