TORONTO — Ontario says it will immediately pay $39 million to the province’s optometrists to retroactively account for the increased costs of services funded by the government.

The one-time payment comes after optometrists threatened to stop conducting eye exams covered by provincial heath insurance in September.

The province says it hopes the payment will preserve access to care as discussions with optometrists carry on.

It is calling on the Ontario Association of Optometrists to continue negotiations on operating costs and future fee increases.

The Ontario Association of Optometrists has said it has been subject to “years of underfunding,” noting that the province paid optometrists $39.15 on average for an exam in 1989 and now pays $44.65 for the service.

The group said the situation has left optometrists absorbing 45 per cent of the cost of an eye exam.

The Ontario Health Insurance Plan covers one annual major eye exam for residents aged 19 and younger, 65 and older, and those with specific medical conditions.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.