Optometrists hold work action to address rising costs

Ontario eye doctors say they have been blinded by costs that have risen in the age of COVID-19.

The Ontario Association of Optometrists began a work action on Monday, hoping to convince Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario Ministry of Health to help optometrists recoup business lost during the pandemic. Some optometrists are worried about closing permanently since social distancing poses a challenge to optometrists and their patients.

Dr. Saed Isaac, an optometrist with Moussa Professional Optometric Corporation in Windsor, told that a big part of the problem is OHIP.

"We see 60 per cent of our patients through OHIP," said Isaac. "OHIP covers eye exams for kids under 19 years old or over 65. The ages of 20 to 65 are covered if they have an eye condition, or are diabetic, or have cataracts."

The issue with that, Isaac said, is that OHIP never fully covered the cost of a standard eye exam, half to be exact. The pandemic has caused an even greater hit for the bottom line of many optometrists.

"Because of COVID, we are seeing 50 to 60 per cent or less of our patients," said Isaac. "So now a lot of businesses like our optometrist offices are not able to see the volume that we used to see before."

According to a media release from the association, the loss of business due to the pandemic and the current makeup of OHIP may result in two million lost eye exams over the next 12 months. A survey of association members reported that 95 per cent of all optometrists in Ontario experienced some form of drop in revenue due to the pandemic.

The association also said that due to what they believe is poor funding over the past three decades from governments led by all Ontario's major political parties, optometrists are forced to subsidize half of the province's eye care system, to the tune of $173 million.

Isaac said optometrists are asking Ford to cover the full cost of eye exams under OHIP, not only to help stifle costs, but also to address future health care needs.

"We have an aging population, and by the age of 65, at least one out of three patients will have a vision-related disease," said Isaac.

Complete information on the association's job action is available on its official website.

-With files from Adelle Loiselle

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