Health Ministry says optometrists are leaving out key details in their fight with the province

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Published September 2, 2021 at 10:14 am

The office of provincial Health Minister Christine Elliott is fighting back, saying their issues with optometrists and OHIP-covered eye exams isn’t as one-sided as it’s been portrayed in the media.

Alexandra Hilkene, Elliott’s Press Secretary, contacted insauga.com yesterday to refute some of the Optometrists Association of Ontario’s (OAO) claims that the Ford government was not negotiating in good faith.

Hilkene said that when OAO president Dr. Sheldon Salaba said the $39 million the government gave the optometrists mid-August was a one-time payment that didn’t cover a quarter of their annual deficit, the impression was the payment was the only incentive offered.

“The one-time payment is only part of the province’s offer to the OAO. The province also offered an immediate OHIP fee increase of 8.48 per cent, retroactive to April 1, 2021,” said Hilkene.

“This reflects a ‘catch up’ of fee increases similar to what doctors received over the past decade while optometrists were left without an agreement, and represents a significant increase in today’s highly constrained fiscal environment,” she continued.

“We have also committed to immediately set up a working group, with the continued support of a mediator, to better understand the overhead costs optometrists may face in delivering their services to Ontarians and how to address this going forward.”

Hilkene then offered up Elliott’s own comments about the negotiations with the OAO, which were, “Since day one, our government has been hard at work ensuring that patients have access to the care they need – when they need it.”

Elliot continued, “Our government has made every effort possible to lay the foundation for a long-term relationship with the Ontario Association of Optometrists. This includes engaging a third-party mediator to assist us in reaching an agreement and offering a one-time lump sum payment as well as an immediate OHIP fee increase. This represents a significant and sustainable increase in today’s highly-constrained fiscal environment.”

As for negotiations with the OAO breaking down, Elliott then said the optometrists’ group was making it seem like the government was walking from the table.

 

Elliot said that wasn’t true. “While we had hoped that these discussions would lead to a positive outcome, we are extremely disappointed in the OAO’s decision to decline to resume mediation, as well as the OAO’s encouragement of Ontario’s optometrists to withdraw services, starting today (September 1), that many vulnerable Ontarians rely on.”

“To do so as Ontario faces the fourth wave of the pandemic is unconscionable.”

Elliot maintains that she is hopeful the two sides can get back to the table but at the same time insists it’s not the government refusing to enter the room.

“The mediator left the parties this weekend (August 28-29) with a standing invitation to resume mediation. The ministry has accepted the mediator’s conditions and communicated its continued willingness to return to mediation, and is ready, willing, and able to do just that,” the Minister said.

“Despite the OAO maintaining they are at the table, it’s unclear what table they are sitting at given they have declined the mediator’s conditions. We await a change of heart from the OAO.”

Finally, Elliott wanted to emphasize that the government does not want seniors to suffer from any backlash between the two sides.

She said, “I want to be clear that our government will continue to fund these optometry services through OHIP. Any decision to withdraw services is the decision of individual optometrists.”

She concluded, “The College of Optometrists of Ontario has made clear that if an individual optometrist decides to withhold care from a patient, they are expected to take steps to ensure the patient can continue to receive appropriate care.”

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