Optometrists ‘desperate’: PC MPP criticizes Ford government over handling of file
Published Friday, November 12, 2021 6:45PM EST
Last Updated Friday, November 12, 2021 6:45PM EST
Progressive Conservative MPP Gila Martow says her own party should be doing more at Queen's Park to resolve a dragging dispute with optometrists.
Martow, a PC MPP for Thornhill and a qualified optometrist, told CP24 Friday that she is criticizing her party publicly because she feels her efforts to resolve the conflict within government have been ignored.
“I did a presentation for caucus soon after I was elected and I explained that this was a dispute that was going to be coming up and we should get ahead of it as opposed to being behind it,” Martow said.
She said that the Ford government did not listen to her and that now “the optometrists have no choice” but to take action by withholding services.
Ontario optometrists withdrew provincially insured eye services more than two months ago in a dispute over funding. The dispute affects eye exams for seniors and children and little progress has been made in negotiations.
The optometrists have said that the government has failed to adjust their compensation to account for rising costs.
A proposal by the government to increase reimbursement by 8.48 per cent would bring funding up to $48 per exam, but optometrists say the actual cost of the exams is somewhere between $75 and $80.
The government has also offered $39 million in retroactive costs, but the optometrists have said that would amount to just over a dollar for every service performed over the covered period.
“They're not allowed to charge their patients for an eye exam if that eye exam is supposed to be covered by OHIP and I think people have trouble wrapping their heads around that,” Martow said. “But the fact that the optometrists have withdrawn services is a desperate, desperate move after really three decades of every year being paid less because the cost of living goes up, the cost of equipment goes up.”
She said the profession has also evolved so that optometrists do much more today than they used to, including diagnosing and helping treat diseases like glaucoma, and writing prescriptions for eye medications.
In a statement to CP24, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO) has refused to return to bargaining with the government.
“Our government understands that the OAO, who has gone without an agreement since 2011, has been untreated fairly (sic) by previous governments,” the statement read. “However, it would not be reasonable or responsible of the government to agree to any other fee increase without proper due diligence, yet the OAO is choosing to demand an outcome before allowing detailed discussions to start.”
She said the $39 million offer to retroactively boost coverage represented a “starting point.”
But speaking with CP24, OAO President Dr. Sheldon Salaba said his organization has not heard from the province since August.
“We've been trying to call the Ontario government and engage with them over the last 32 years. They will not pick up the phone,” he said.
He said his organization was not demanding retroactive payment, but does want to see the government adequately fund the service that optometrists are providing.
“I don't understand how the government can expect the service provider to pay to see the patients,” he said.
Martow said it is “unfortunate” that she has to break with her own party publicly but said “the reality is that I feel that my voice isn't being heard.”
She also took aim at the Ford government for not doing more to implement changes she recommended around curbing tow truck gangs, digital governance and the Yonge Street north subway extension.
“I'm hoping to get at least something solved,” she said, referring to the dispute with optometrists.
A three-time MPP, Martow has represented Thornhill for the Ontario PC party since 2014. She recently ran for the federal Conservative nomination in her riding, but lost to conservative strategist Melissa Lantsman, who was Premier Doug Ford’s 2018 war room director.
Martow said she will not run again in next year’s provincial election.
She is a qualified optometrist, though she is not currently practicing.
⁃ With files from The Canadian Press