Funding dispute between optometrists and Ontario government has some looking to Quebec for service
OTTAWA -- An ongoing funding dispute between the Ontario government and optometrists in the province has left seniors and teens without access to eye care for months. Now, some are crossing over to Quebec and paying out of pocket to get the help they need.
Millions in the province who get eye care covered by OHIP currently can't book an appointment in Ontario.
"The first three weeks, my eyes were glued shut every morning. It required me literally opening them manually," said Sharon Lanteing, who has been dealing with an eye infection for more than two months.
"It's not comfortable; it's not painful, but it's not comfortable," she said.
"I'm not certain why we should be suffering, frankly. It's frustrating to me. I don't have a clear understanding of the reasons for it and I don't have a clear understanding of how long this is going to last."
In September, optometrists in Ontario stopped providing services for millions of patients covered by OHIP, amid a battle with the province over funding. Little progress has been made in negotiations so far.
It means anyone under 20 or over 65 can't get an appointment.
"This is basically out of desperation, it's our last resort, it's because we've tried everything else with the government," said Dr. Kevin Chavez, an Ottawa optometrist and former president of the Ottawa Society of Optometrists.
Optometrists have said the province hasn't adjusted its compensation to account for rising costs. Currently the government fund $44 per exam in Ontario. The next closest in terms of cost in the country is Manitoba, which funds $77 per exam.
"Other provinces that do this have funding levels two to three times higher than Ontario and so that's just why this is not sustainable anymore," said Chavez.
"They're coming from out of province and they're paying out of pocket because they really need the service," said Stephanie Nassif, optician and co-owner of Laboratoire Visuel in Hull, Que.
The dispute has some looking across the border for care. Nassif's Hull clinic is seeing an influx of Ontario patients.
"Not even the city of Ottawa, we're going even further than that. Far Orleans, far Kanata, far east and west of the city," said Dr. Georges Nassif, optometrist and co-owner of the clinic.
Lanteing said paying out of pocket for service in another province is on the table for her.
"If it gets bad enough, I'm going to have to do that as well," said Lanteing.