It may be a poke in the eye for some seniors.
OHIP-covered eye services for many people aged 65 and up will be reduced as a result of a new deal between Premier Doug Ford’s government and the Ontario Association of Optometrists.
Starting Sept. 1, free annual eye exams paid for through the Ontario Health Insurance Plan will no longer be available to all seniors
, Health Minister Sylvia Jones announced Friday.
Only those with “eligible medical conditions affecting their eyes such as macular degeneration, glaucoma or diabetes” will get a yearly checkup.
“Seniors without an eligible medical condition will receive one exam every 18 months,” the government said, adding the change is “based on the best clinical evidence and prioritizes seniors with the highest needs.”
It also puts Ontario in line with provinces like Manitoba and Nova Scotia, which only insure eye exams every 24 months for all seniors.
As well, seniors will be limited to just two minor followup assessments with an optometrist every year. Currently, there’s no limit on such minor assessments.
OHIP coverage of eye exams for people of all ages with cataracts will continue.
Those will uveitis — or inflammation inside the eye — will get expanded services under the changes.
Currently, only those with recurring uveitis are covered, but under the new framework everyone with the condition can get an eye test.
On Sept. 1, there will be also be increased access to eye care for people with chronic diseases such as glaucoma and diabetes.
“The way eye care is delivered has changed over the past decade,” Jones said in a statement touting the accord with the optometrists.
“Together, we were able to come to a long-term and sustainable agreement. Through their OHIP card, people of all ages will continue to be connected to high quality and publicly funded eye care that better reflects the latest best practices and expert advice,” she said.
Dr. Josephine Pepe, president of the optometrists’ organization, expressed satisfaction at the “historic” four-year funding agreement.
“We will be working together to ensure optometrists can continue providing the high-quality access to care that Ontarians deserve, both now and for future generations,” said Pepe.
Starting April 1, optometrists will receive increase payments for some OHIP-insured services and for eye exams for those on social assistance.
Relations between the province and the optometrists, who hadn’t had a new funding arrangement with the government since 2011, have been rancorous in recent years.
In 2021, the optometrists stopped providing OHIP-covered eye exams for children, seniors and social assistance recipients over their long-standing dispute over fees
They insisted they were being paid $44 for services that cost about $80 to perform.
NDP Leader Marit Stiles blasted the changes.
“Seniors are having a hard enough time right now without having to go longer between eye exams, which are critical to seniors’ health,” said Stiles.
“The Ford government reducing OHIP-covered eye checkups for people 65 and older to every 18 months instead of annually will hurt seniors — preventative eye care is important to catching issues early and could impact seniors’ ability to live independently,” she said.
“Only seniors who can afford to pay out of pocket will be able to get more frequent eye exams. This announcement is yet another example of Doug Ford funnelling money out of our public health care system into private, for-profit care.”