For months now Ontario optometrists and the provincial government have been going back and forth with negotiations regarding compensation for OHIP-insured eye care.

On September 1, 2021, optometrists across Ontario stopped providing the eye care service as a form of a strike against the government. As a result of the stoppage, millions of children and seniors are without proper eye care.

This means that routine eye exams and follow-up care for children under 19 and seniors over 65 has ended, as well as OHIP-insured exams for those with diabetes, glaucoma, cataracts, acute ocular issues, and more.

Last week KenoraOnline spoke with Dr. Agnew of the Kenora Optometry Clinic to explain the story through the lens of an Ontario optometrist.

Now, Robin Martin a parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Health, Christine Elliot has spoken on behalf of the government's perspective on what they have presented the OAO.

“We had some talks, and we had appointed a third-party mediator independent of either party who set certain conditions for us to come back to the table,” Martin explained. “The ministry of health and the government have met those conditions but the optometrists have walked away from the table. It feels like they're spoiling a bit of a fight here.”

Martin says it’s very unfortunate the Ontario Association of Optometrists has withdrawn services from seniors and children through a possible fourth wave of COVID-19.

“It feels like they are using vulnerable seniors and children as pawns or bargaining chips in a negotiation,” added Martin

As a sign of good faith, the government has offered a one-time payment of $39 million that would cover a retroactive period over the last decade. This payment will be made before an agreement is even reached.

Along with that, the government also offered an immediate OHIP fee increase of 8.48 per cent, retroactive to April 1, 2021. This fee increase is a “catch up” fee that is calculated to reflect similar increases applied to physicians over the past decade.

With these starting points, the government thought it would bring the OAO back to the table but unfortunately, it hasn’t. Martin added the OAO is using unusual tactics through a negotiation to cut services.

“We negotiate with health professionals all the time in the Ministry of Health, there are many regulated health professionals that we cover through OHIP, and the expectation and the usual practice is that those health professionals will continue providing the service while the negotiations are going on,” noted Martin.

Along with the previously mentioned offers the government has proposed a Working Group with the OAO that will allow the government to understand overhead costs with publicly funded optometry services.

The final item on the proposal was to establish an Insured Optometry Services Review Committee. This committee would provide a mechanism to continue to discuss health care policy and system issues, and develop recommendations on fee increases.

All these items the government has proposed are items that Agnew stated in a previous interview that are some key issues optometrists are facing.

At the end of the day, the provincial government just wants to get back to discussions with the OAO and provide them with the things that they have been fighting for years.

“We want to come to an agreement with them and we're hoping they're going to respond in kind by continuing to provide these services to the people who are relying on them and come back to the table, we can talk and resolve any other issues because, at the end of the day, they're important health service providers,” concluded Martin

Martin wasn’t able to provide any further information regarding a set date for future discussions with the OAO