One of Prime Minister Doug Ford’s MPPs is accusing his government of “heavy-handed tactics” in a standoff over fees paid to optometrists for eye exams covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.
Gila Martow, an optometrist, has broken ranks to draw attention to the dispute that has left thousands of children, teens and seniors without eye care since most optometrists withdrew those publicly funded services on Sept. 1.
The fees paid to optometrists by OHIP for eye exams for these patients have risen by about $ 5 since 1989. The Ontario Association of Optometrists says that’s $ 44, a little more than half the cost of nearly $ 80 from providing an eye exam, according to consultants hired by the Association.
Martow admits that he is in an “awkward position” as he struggles to close the gap.
Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office says the actual costs of providing OHIP-funded eye exams need verification, and is urging a return to the negotiating table for “detailed” discussions under the supervision of a mediator.
“It would not be reasonable or responsible for the government to accept any further rate increases without due diligence,” Elliott spokeswoman Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement Thursday.
Martow, who represents Thornhill, said the Health Ministry had previously been invited, but declined, to join the association and its consultants in a study to determine the costs of performing eye exams.
“Clearly, the government was not prepared for negotiations, even though two members of the government committee are optometrists,” she said, referring to herself and MPP Will Bouma (Brantford-Brant) in her first term.
“I have repeatedly suggested that the Ontario government implement a progressive annual increase until Ontario’s eye exam payments are in line with the rest of Canada.”
Elliott’s office acknowledged that optometrists have been “treated unfairly by previous governments” and have not reached an agreement since 2011.
The province has offered an 8.49 percent increase to roughly $ 48 per exam, and has provided $ 39 million to Ontario’s 2,500 optometrists intended to retroactively cover the last decade, a figure discarded by the association at just over $ 1 for each of the 34 million exams performed. during the 10-year period.
“This represents a starting point of our discussions, not the end, and is intended to be a gesture of good faith that will demonstrate our government’s commitment to reaching a fair and long-term agreement,” Hilkene said of the lump sum payment. .
Martow described the 8.49 percent rate increase offered as a “heavy handed” and “take it or leave it” attempt to land a deal.
“Optometrists feel cornered in a corner. They cannot charge their patients, nor can they continue to provide services under the government fee structure, ”he added, noting that the government could fine optometrists if they try to bill patients directly instead of billing OHIP.
It is illegal for optometrists to accept payments from people in age groups whose vision exams are covered by the provincial health insurance plan.
The fee dispute is causing the cancellation of around 15,000 daily appointments across the province for children, seniors, welfare recipients and those eligible for OHIP-funded eye exams because they have medical conditions like diabetes and kidney disease.
Optometrists say the roughly $ 80 it costs to provide an eye exam includes increasingly expensive equipment, office rentals and staff salaries.
Martow has been at odds with the PC party since he sought the federal conservative nomination in Thornhill for the September national vote, a nomination and election won by veteran party strategist Melissa Lantsman in the race previously held by the former cabinet minister and former broadcaster Peter Kent.
In an interview last year, Martow confirmed to the Star that he was told he would be “closing a door” to run for Ford PCs in the June 2 provincial elections by trying to move into federal politics.
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