Millroy: Caught in the Crosshairs

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I believe the Ontario government has been remiss in not negotiating in good faith increased payments to optometrists for the eye care they provide to seniors under 65 and those under age 20.

But I resent being held captive by both in their ongoing fight.

Ontario optometrists withdrew provincially insured eye services from these age groups on Sept. 1 after a breakdown in talks with the government over reimbursement of costs.

Patient appointments are being cancelled through phone calls as they come up. The optometrists say in the past 30-plus years they have had only one increase, from $39.15 to $44.65, which puts them well behind other provinces, the reimbursement being $77.18 in Manitoba, $106.90 in Quebec and $137.02 in Alberta.

The withdrawal of services don’t affect most of those over 20 and under 65 because, not being covered by OHIP, they pay either out of their own pocket or through insurance if they have it. However, OHIP does fund those in that age group with medical problems such as diabetes and glaucoma or are on social assistance programs.

I thought the simple way around the withdrawal of services for those of us in the affected categories would be to pay for them ourselves in lieu of the government payout.

But it turns out that isn’t possible.

It is illegal for medical practitioners to charge a fee or accept an offered payment for services covered by OHIP. This includes not only from patients but from any insurance provider they might have.

I can understand this happening in normal circumstances because it would be akin to allowing for a two-tiered system of health care.

But I don’t consider these circumstances to be normal because only some parts of the general population are affected. We are caught in the crosshairs of a fight not of our making.

That being the case, I believe the government should make an exception, allowing us to make up the difference, even if it is at a higher rate that would satisfy the optometrists.

However, I doubt the optometrists would be happy with such a situation as at the moment our distress is pretty well all they have as a way of putting pressure on the government.

I had called my optometrist’s office to see the status of my appointment and was told since mine was quite a bit down the road I wouldn’t receive a call until it was much closer.

I was told that the hope was that things would be settled before my appointment came up.

I hope so too.

I realize I am not a worst-case scenario. I can survive with the glasses I have.
But I don’t want to.

I don’t see as sharply with them as I once did and the frames are somewhat battered from coming off with my mask a couple of times, landing on a hard floor, and a header I recently took

The province in August did offer a $39 million retroactive payment to be split among 2,500 optometrists, about $16,000 each. The government also offered to increase the $44.65 reimbursement to about $49.

But Dr. Sheldon Salaba, president of the Ontario Association of Optometrists, was quoted as saying this was not near enough.

“We don’t want to have to pay to see the patients that we’re serving because that creates a system where there is a lower level of care that we’re able to provide,” Salaba said, And when optometry services were left out of the provincial budget in March, the OAO membership took a vote, with an overwhelming 96 per cent voting to withdraw OHIP services.

The OAO then gave the government six months’ notice that optometrists would not be able to continue services.

“This is an unsustainable situation and the government (is) not taking eye care, or at least optometry services, as serious benefits for the population,” said Dr. Richard Saari, an optometrist in Welland.

I think I can agree with both Salaba and Saari. The government isn’t offering enough and it doesn’t appear to be taking the situation seriously. After all, in these days, nothing goes more than two years at the most, let alone 30, without a considerable increase in costs.

However, we are talking here about a Progressive Conservative government that is so tight it is appealing a court decision, that the federal government isn’t, which said the $4 annual payment the Crown has been making to about 30,000 natives under the Huron-Robinson Treaty since 1875 essentially should have been increased many times.

Premier Doug Ford has done a pretty good job in fighting the coronavirus COVID-19 but he has certainly been shortsighted on these two issues.

The government, of course ,has placed all the blame for the impasse on the optometrists. Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement that the government’s offer was ”fair and reasonable” and that she was disappointed with the OAO declining mediation.

But the OAO in a followup statement said it had accepted an invitation from the government for mediation, but after two days “it became abundantly clear that the ministry was not there to negotiate in good faith a long-term solution.”

The government’s offer is eight percent. After only one increase of $5 in 32 years, an offer like that isn’t worth discussing. It is time for the government to get serious and recognize that an increase of eight percent is an offer that might have flown in 2001 but certainly won’t in 2021.

Some cities have expressed support for the optometrists and I would hope all would, including the Sault.

I am not happy with the optometrists withdrawing services but I am prepared to live with it as I know it is the only bargaining chip they have in dealing with an intransigent government.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The optometrists certainly have a case. Compare that to teacher wage demands and the settlements they have received over the years. The government needs to check with other provinces as to what they pay and then do the right thing.
    Eye care is just as important as any other medical care.

  2. while it is a generalization, one of the strongest voting demographics for conservative politics is seniors. perhaps being faced with some direct consequences of electing Doug Ford is exactly what seniors need.

    i’d recommend contacting Ross Romano (in Sudbury) to share your concerns.

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