McGuinty promises free glasses for JK kids who need them
MILTON, Ont. - Kids in junior kindergarten who need glasses would get them for free under an expanded program promised by Premier Dalton McGuinty Monday.
It's a plan aimed at encouraging parents to take their young children to the optometrist by waiving about $300 in dispensing and eyeglasses fees, and one the governing Liberals say would test more than 117,000 JK students across all the province's school boards by 2015.
"Some parents may say: 'I think she's got a problem but if I take her in that's $300, and I don't have $300'," Premier Dalton McGuinty said after visiting a classroom in Milton, Ont.
"We're saying don't worry about that, we've got you covered."
Under the new plan, which builds on a program that is already in place in Hamilton, three different providers -- Jungle Eyewear, Hoya Vision Care and Johnson and Johnson Vision -- will supply the free glasses.
The program will cost taxpayers about $200,000 a year, or $1-million over the five-year period, with the bulk of the costs being picked up by optometrists and other private sector partners.
It will be rolled out in 14 school boards this September, a month before voters head to the polls for the Oct. 6 election.
Eye exams are free for children under 19, as well as seniors, diabetics and people on social assistance, but that doesn't cover dispensing fees or the cost of eyeglasses. The Liberals delisted eye exams for most adults from services covered by the province in 2004.
Opposition parties scoffed at McGuinty's plan, saying it was a trial balloon "pulled out of a hat" that discriminated against older kids who may also need glasses.
"The timing is suspicious, the policy is unfair because it applies to some and not to others -- it's not based on need," said NDP health critic France Gelinas.
"What they rolled out is very vague. What happens if you have a child in JK and a child in Grade 1 who needs glasses also?"
There may also be a problem with accessibility for some of the northern or fly-in communities who may not have participating optometrists on hand, Gelinas said.
"Are we going to fly all the kids out of the 57 fly-in reserves when they are three and a half to have an eye test?," she asked.
Progressive Conservative critic Garfield Dunlop called the announcement an attempted "seat saver" for nervous Liberals.
"It's an election trial balloon, he's had eight years to come up with ideas like this," said Dunlop.
"He's the same guy who delisted optometrists services from OHIP back when he brought in the health premium."
The Liberals have yet to unveil an election platform but in addition to Monday's announcement, they have so far suggested a refund for commuters in the Greater Toronto Area if their GO Transit train is more than 20 minutes late.
McGuinty stopped short of actually promising the $7-million plan, however, saying he wanted to hear from riders first.