After 30 years of chronic underfunding, COVID-19 further strains access to eye care
Ontario’s optometrists are launching an urgent appeal to the Ontario government to end the 30-year neglect in funding for eye care. This chronic underfunding, coupled with the devastating impact of COVID-19 on optometrists’ ability to see patients, threatens Ontarians’ access to these essential health services.
With strict physical distancing and infection control guidelines, optometrists are returning to work with patient volumes reduced by 50 per cent, resulting in the loss of nearly two million comprehensive eye exams over the next 12 months.
“Optometrists can’t reopen practices that have been financially devastated by COVID-19, only to provide OHIP-insured services at an even greater loss. If this happens, practices in both rural and urban communities will struggle to survive,” said Dr. Sheldon Salaba, President of the Ontario Association of Optometrists. “It’s time for Ontario’s elected officials to open their eyes to a crisis that’s about to become painfully visible for all to see.”
COVID-19 has strained health care workers and decimated small businesses, and local optometrists are both. A recent survey reveals the devastating impact of the pandemic on optometry practices in Ontario, with 95 per cent reporting a revenue drop between 75 and 80 per cent since the forced closure of clinics in mid-March.
But even before the pandemic, Ontario’s optometrists were in a far worse position than most other health care providers. After decades of neglect by previous governments, optometrists now subsidize more than half of the province’s eye care system, at a cost of $173 million a year.
To ensure Ontarians receive care, optometrists will be referring patients to alternate providers, such as family doctors and hospitals. This situation risks putting a strain on the health system at the worst possible time.
“We are fighting not just for our survival, but for a long-term solution that protects patients and public health,” added Dr. Salaba. “We ask the government to come to the table with a commitment to succeed where previous governments failed. Either cover the true cost of eye exams or give optometrists more flexibility in our billings. Optometrists are ready to adapt to ensure Ontarians get the accessible and quality eye care they deserve.”