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Optometrists withdraw OHIP-covered services Wednesday after breakdown in govt talks

Ontario optometrists were to withdraw provincially insured eye services starting Wednesday, after a breakdown in talks with the provincial government over reimbursement of costs.
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Ontario optometrists were to withdraw provincially insured eye services starting Wednesday, after a breakdown in talks with the provincial government over reimbursement of costs.

The province's health plan covers annual eye exams for residents aged 19 and under, 65 and older and people with specific health conditions.

The head of the Ontario Association of Optometrists said optometrists would start calling affected patients to cancel appointments and place them on waiting lists on Wednesday.

Dr. Sheldon Salaba said his group's members are currently paying for around 45 per cent of those services and says the job action comes after disappointing talks on the issue with the government.

He said there will be a delay in service for people covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan until talks resume. However, he said people should still contact optometrists with emergencies for help reaching a family doctor or another health-care setting.

"We are going to help them navigate, depending on what is happening to them, the best option for them to receive care," Salaba said Tuesday.

The province has offered to pay optometrists $39 million to retroactively account for increased costs of services. 

It has also offered to increase reimbursement by 8.48 per cent. 

Salaba said optometrists want an increase of 70 per cent to close the gap. 

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province is "extremely disappointed" in the association's decision to withdraw services. 

"To do so as Ontario faces the fourth wave of the pandemic is unconscionable," she said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Elliott said the optometrists declined to continue mediation on the weekend, and said the government is awaiting a "change of heart" from them.

She said the government will continue funding the affected services, and "any decision to withdraw services is the decision of individual optometrists."

"Our government’s offer is an extremely fair and reasonable one, and I urge the OAO to stop withholding care from patients and commit to reaching an agreement today," she said.

The province said approximately 2.9 million Ontario residents received provincially insured optometry services in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 1, 2021. 

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press