No resolution in sight for dispute between Ontario's optometrists and provincial government
In September, Ontario's optometrists stopped offering provincially insured services, saying they aren't being properly compensated.
Weeks later, the issue shows no signs of resolution, with the Ontario Association of Optometrists saying they're not happy with what the government has offered so far.
For OHIP patients like Waterloo's Roy Smith, the dispute is making it a challenge for him to access post-surgery care.
Smith had glaucoma surgery in the spring and was told by his ophthalmologist to get an appointment with an optometrist.
"To have my pressure and eye examined as continued follow up to that surgery," he said.
Because he's covered by OHIP, Smith now can't get an appointment. In the meantime, he has to get his follow-up care from his specialist.
"They said that they would see me later this month but it means that I have to drive to Oakville to have that monitoring done," Smith said.
The OAO said the government currently only reimburses them about half of the cost of seeing a patient.
"My practice is 97 per cent OHIP insured," said Waterloo optometrist Derek MacDonald.
MacDonald joined others in a rally at Queen's Park on Wednesday.
"Another one of the other casualties of this is that once the situation does it resolved there's going to be a huge backlog of patients who really need to be seen," he said.
The province has offered a one-time payment of 39 million dollars to be split between the 2,200 optometrists who practise in Ontario.
The provincial government also offered an 8.48 per cent pay boost per patient, but the offer was rejected.
"It's a drop in the bucket. It does nothing to address sustainability going forward," MacDonald said.
"The bottom line is this: the OAO continues to decline the invitation from our independent, third-party mediator, who was chosen by the OAO, to resume negotiations. The Ministry of Health has agreed to these conditions and is ready and willing to continue discussions as soon as the OAO agrees," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said in an emailed statement.
The Ontario Association of Optometrists said it costs almost $80 per patient visit.
The Ministry of Health said it has not yet been able to verify that number.
"It would not be fair to taxpayers, nor reasonable and responsible of the government, to agree to any other fee increase without due diligence in validating the evidence used to support such an increase," the Ministry said. "That is why as part of our offer we have proposed to immediately set up a joint working group, to dig deeply into these and other issues as quickly as possible. This includes a thorough understanding of the costs optometrists incur in delivering their services to Ontarians."
The OAO said it won't return to the bargaining table until the offer is equal to the cost.