Breakthrough in negotiations as Ontario optometrists pause job action and resume services for children, seniors

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The Ontario Association of Optometrists will ‘stop’ the return of Ontario health insurance plan services starting Tuesday.Jörg Sarbuch / The Associated Press

Ontario optometrists will restart publicly funded services for seniors and children in an act of “goodwill” as they agreed on Monday to enter into formal talks with the provincial government that dragged on for months Was.

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The suspension of Ontario health insurance plan services by the province’s optometrist on September 1 for people 19 and under and 65 and older means hundreds of thousands of people are unable to get eye care. Thousands of cataract referrals have also been cancelled.

The Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO) will “pause” the return of those services starting Tuesday, the group said in a statement, as talks with the province begin. Both sides have achieved success after months of public tussle, with optometrists arguing that their services have been chronically underfunded and the province accusing eye doctors of failing to negotiate.

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“OAO is committed to negotiating a sustainable funding model that aligns with funding optometric care in other Canadian jurisdictions,” it said in its statement announcing the formal talks and the launch of OHIP services.

“OAO expects stronger dialogue to begin immediately, given that rapid resolution of this issue is a top priority for both optometrists and their patients,” it said.

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After two days of mediation in August, talks between the two sides broke down, with the OAO refusing to return to the table until the government committed to increasing funding over the long term.

Ms Elliott said she was pleased that the group had agreed to join the government in direct face-to-face talks.

“As a result of this agreement to resume negotiations, the OAO has advised the Ministry of Health that any OHIP-insured eye and vision care services previously affected by this impasse will be effective from November 23, 2021. Both sides have also agreed to a media blackout on the subject during these negotiations. The Ministry of Health is at the negotiating table ready to reach a timely and fair agreement with respect to this important matter,” she said in a statement.

The dispute between the OAO and the province focused on funding for services covered by OHIP.

Currently, OHIP pays for eye exams for people 19 years of age and younger; they are 65 and older; and people with special conditions, such as diabetes, glaucoma and macular degeneration, for about $45 per test. But the actual cost of an exam is $80, and government funding needs to reach that level, OAO President Sheldon Salaba has said. OAO says Ontario optometrists receive the least funding of any province with publicly funded optometry services; For example, in Manitoba, it is $77 and in Alberta, it is $137.

The government had previously offered a one-time payment of $39 million to the province’s 2,500 optometrists. It offered optometrists to increase OHIP fee reimbursement to 8.48 percent, retrospectively from April 1, as well as to immediately strike a joint working group to cooperate in investigating the cost of overhead.

But the OAO has said that it is not enough to make eye care sustainable for optometrists who are covering the cost out of their own pocket.

The news of the resumption of eye care services was welcomed by seniors and parents, although some expressed concern about the backlog.

“It’s about time,” said retired Julie Doherty, 69, who lives north of Staffville, Ont.

Ms Doherty, who has been waiting for her annual eye exam since work stopped, said she has often lost patience because of the lack of dialogue between the OAO and the province.

“It’s been very disappointing,” she said. She will immediately call her optometrist to make an appointment.

Cathy Miller wonders about how appointments will be scheduled, out of concern that some optometrists may not have an accurate waiting list.

The retired Ms. Miller, 70, who lives in Peterborough, was diagnosed with glaucoma on August 31. She is awaiting a follow-up appointment and has since been receiving whatever necessary treatment.

She has called her optometrist’s office eight times since the job proceedings began. She has called a dozen other optometrists in Peterborough and a dozen others in Toronto in hopes of finding a shorter waiting list.

Ms. Miller has started having double vision, and she is also losing her peripheral vision.

“I’m at the point where it’s a little scary,” she says of her vision loss.

She worries that whatever treatment she receives, it may be too late to fully recover her vision. “Are they going to tell us that there’s such a huge waiting list now? How are they going to prioritize? ,

Nari Xu Hong called the resumption of services “good news”. Her eight-year-old daughter completed a long course of treatment in April, and Ms Xu looks forward to seeing an optometrist to make sure everything is okay.

“I’m really looking forward to getting my daughter tested,” Ms Xu said. “I know a lot of parents are waiting for their kids to have an eye exam.”

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