The War on Eye Health in Ontario

By: Catherine He

Almost everyone in the Canadian province of Ontario has seen an optometrist at some point in their lifetimes. Whether it be in primary school when the eye doctors would provide in-school tests or as an adult the world just seems a little blurry, optometrists are crucial in maintaining the health of arguably the most important sense: sight. Despite this, they’re about to get a lot more scarce. Why?

All seniors’, children’s and OHIP eye exams are ending September 1, 2021.

You might be blinking in confusion, trying to wrap your head around what you just read. OHIP eye exams are ending? What does this mean for me as an Ontarian? Why should I care about this?

First of all, let’s clear any confusion surrounding OHIP. According to Ontario, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan covers one annual major eye exam and any follow-up appointments related to the condition for residents aged 19 and younger, 65 and older, and those with specific medical conditions such as diabetes mellitus and glaucoma. OHIP may also cover a major eye exam if it has been requested for a specific reason by your doctor (they will need to give you a referral form). OHIP essentially ensures that those who are at a disadvantage (are not in the workforce and don’t earn a steady income, have medical conditions that tamper with their lifestyle, etc.) have access to relevant care. Everyone in the eligible age groups with an Ontario health card (all Canadian PRs and citizens) are granted these benefits.

Eye care has long been an important part of OHIP, as it is crucial for a variety of reasons:

  • Routine eye care is critical in early detection of eye diseases like glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
  • 80% of learning is done through vision and children depend on healthy eyes to succeed in school.
  • The health of your eyes is critical to your overall health and quality of life.

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

So why are these amazing health benefits ending?

According to the Ontario Association of Optometrists, for over 30 years, the Ontario government has refused to formally negotiate with optometrists. In 1989, the province paid $39.15 for an eye exam. In 2021, 32 years later, they pay an average of $44.65. To put this into perspective, if someone without a health card or not within the designated age group wanted to complete an eye exam with an Ontario optometrist, they would be looking at a fee of approximately $90.00. This amount translates to the cost of one eye exam. Therefore, we can see that the sum Ontario is giving does not come close to covering the costs (rent, staff, utilities, equipment, taxes, and supplies) to provide an eye exam. In fact, using $90.00 as the ballpark for non-OHIP covered exams, the government is only covering approximately 49.6% of the costs when you do the math; the rest of the burden falls on each individual office, who must pay the other half of the fees for resources being given away for nada.

This lack of funding not only hinders optometrists’ ability to serve patients, but it also makes it difficult to invest in modern technology. Newer technology translates to earlier detection of potential eye diseases. So while Ontario may be fooling you by providing eye care under OHIP, in reality, they’re not doing your health any favours. This is obviously not sustainable, and yet, the Ontario government continues to turn a blind eye. Evidently, they do not care about the wellbeing of their citizens. If the government chooses not to prioritize eye health, this could equate to revoking access to eye care for millions of Ontarians.

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

Knowing this, what can you do?

Something very simple that you can do to advocate for Ontario’s health is send an email to Premier Ford and your local MPP, telling them that not properly funding eye care hurts you, your family, and all Ontarians. Here is a template that you can fill in:

Dear [your MPP],

I am writing to you as my Member of Provincial Parliament because I value access to the quality eye care that optometrists provide – and you need to act now to protect it.

I view their two simple requests as VERY reasonable:

1. Ontario optometrists want to uphold their Charter Right to collective bargaining after being denied negotiations for 30 years.

2. Ontario optometrists should not have to pay out of pocket to examine patients that are insured by OHIP.

As an Ontario voter, this issue matters to me. Will you help fix OHIP-insured eye care so that my family and I can continue to have access to the quality health care that we deserve before the September 1 deadline?

Signed,

[name]

[e-mail]

[postal code]

Via SaveEyeCare.ca

Ontario’s eye care system needs your support: now more than ever before. The time to act has arrived. Visit SaveEyeCare.ca to save eye care.

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