Dispute with optometrists causes Ottawa patients to watch Quebec clinics

Quebec optometrists say they are responding to dozens of calls from Ontario patients looking for appointments amid the dispute between the Ontario government and its ophthalmologists.

In September, 98% of optometrists began denying services to some of the 2.9 million patients covered for eye care by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), which includes children under the age of 19 years old, people 65 years of age and over and people with certain eye conditions.

The dispute is over how much optometrists should be reimbursed by the province for eye services covered by OHIP. The current rate is the lowest in Canada.

Since Ontario law does not allow patients to pay for services with private insurance, some have sought appointments across provincial borders.

“We don’t see a lot of patients from Ontario, usually,” said ophthalmologist Marie-Josée Deschamps in Gatineau, Que.

As the dispute drags on, Deschamps said her clinic receives dozens of calls from Ontario patients every week.

While her office was able to make appointments for these callers over the next several months, Deschamps said their schedule was already “really busy right now with only our patients.”

Waiting is not an option, say patients

CBC spoke to several other optometrists in Quebec who all confirmed that they are hearing more and more Ontario patients trying to see an ophthalmologist, including Ottawans like Julie Tam and Ryan Gagnon Macaleese.

Tam’s 11-year-old daughter recently started having headaches and struggled to see the blackboard at school. When Tam tried to make an appointment with her optometrist, she was turned away, even after offering to pay for the service.

The Orleans family waited several weeks to see if the province and optometrists would come to an agreement, but Tam said she ultimately felt there was no choice but to see an ophthalmologist in Gatineau.

Julie Tam, right, made an eye exam for her 11-year-old daughter Naomi in Gatineau after she had headaches at school. (Submitted by Julie Tam)

“At the end of the day, I had to put my daughter’s health first,” she said. “And as much as I support the action for the current job, it is above all my daughter that matters to me.”

Gagnon Macaleese recently made the crossing of the river himself for an eye meeting.

Gagnon Macaleese is diabetic, which requires him to have an eye exam every year. He also said he supported the optometrists in the dispute, but waiting until the end was not an option.

“I can only sense someone in Toronto right now or in central Ontario that has no border with them,” he said.

“If we didn’t have Quebec as close as it is to us … I would be quite upset. I would probably do the road trip because it’s ridiculous.


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