Ministry clarifies vision for optometry

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

This week, the Ontario Ministry of Health has provided further information on its position regarding negotiations with the Ontario Association of Optometrists.

In an emailed statement, the MOH says: “the OAO declined the conditions put forward by an independent third-party mediator, chosen by the OAO, that would allow us to resume mediation and reach a deal that supports high-quality vision care for Ontarians.”

According to the statement, the MOH agreed to the mediators terms to resume discussions, but the OAO was not interested.

The MOH also has concerns with the stipulations of the audit which the OAO has cited, regarding the average cost of eye exams. The results of the audit provided to the Times by the OAO indicated an average cost of $75.51 per exam. The MOH, however, indicates that this audit is representative of only 73 optometrists out of 2,500 in the province.

The Ministry says it proposed a working group be established to work with optometrists to work out what is best for service providers, the government, and the people of Ontario.

“It is not reasonable or responsible for the government to agree to any other increase without first engaging in a process of due diligence to validate the facts. 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 current impasse lays squarely at the feet of the OAO, which, instead of participating in good-faith negotiations, is choosing to demand an outcome, before allowing them to start.”

Also, while it is true that many provinces do not provide vision care funding at all and some provinces provide more funding to optometrists, the MOH wanted to make it clear that Ontario is the only jurisdiction which funds eye exams every year for insured patients. Other provinces pay for exams once every two years, or not at all.

“Ontario is also the only province where patients don’t have to pay an additional amount out of their own pockets for an insured eye exam, in the same way they are not required to pay any extra fees for other OHIP insured services, like physician and hospital services.”

The Ministry also said, “The College of Optometrists of Ontario, has made clear that if an individual optometrist decides to withhold care from their patient, they are expected to take steps to ensure patients can continue to receive appropriate care such as referrals. We have written to the College to stress the importance of ensuring that during any job action its members conduct themselves appropriately in accordance with the College’s policies and guidelines. The College has assured us that they remain focused on its mandate to protect the public and will be ready to receive and investigate any complaints if an issue should arise.”

The MOH is asking that the OAO come back to the bargaining table and negotiate to ensure that Ontarians receive the benefits they are entitled to.

“The OAO should say yes to our joint mediator’s invitation, and work with us to ensure Ontarians continue to access the care they need and deserve.”