Quebec’s optometrists say they are opting out of medicare. As of March 10, all Quebecers, even children, the elderly and those on social assistance, will have to pay for their eye checkups.
The Quebec optometrist association is making the move after giving up on negotiating a new five-year contract with the government. Optometrists insist this isn’t a negotiating tactic, and that they have already filed the paperwork to leave the RAMQ.
The association represents 1,400 optometrists and they say they are operating at a loss. Right now, their services are covered by provincial health insurance for people under 18 and people over 65, who make up 50 per cent of their patient base, so optometrists say they are losing money half the time.
The association claims they are currently being paid on average, $42 for an eye exam, but they could be making $95 in private practice. A statement released on Wednesday reads in part:
“After nearly 50 years of participation in the publicly funded healthcare system, the Association des optométristes du québec (AOQ) regrets to announce that because of a failure in negotiations, 90% of the optometrists in Quebec have decided to withdraw from the RAMQ.”
Just three weeks ago, the government announced a new $1.4-billion early childhood education strategy where the Liberals promised to make sure that all school-aged children get free eye exams.
The association’s executive director, Maryse Nolin, said that optometrists were never consulted on this and were given no details about how the program would work.
Education Minister Sebastien Proulx was sick on Wednesday and unavailable for comment.
Health Minister Gaetan Barrette said he is surprised by this news, calling it a “maneuver” and said he hopes the optometrists will come back to the negotiating table.
“We’ve had only two meetings until today. I don’t think any negotiations can be concluded on a two-meeting basis. That doesn’t exist. I’ve never seen that,” he said.
Just one day earlier, the health minister came under fire for not negotiating with nurses fast enough. On Wednesday, the Opposition criticized the minister for failing to negotiate with the optometrists.
“The problem we see right now is that the Barrette/Couillard government doesn’t have much credibility to negotiate with the different parties because they are in a big battle with everybody — with the pharmacists, with the specialists, with GPs, with everybody,” said CAQ Leader François Legault.
Quebecers will have to pay cash for these services and that’s not our vision of the health-care system in Quebec,” Parti Quebecois Leader Jean-François Lisée said.
Nolin said leaving the RAMQ is not good news for optometrists, adding they are prepared to leave, but if the government offers them a better deal, they would reconsider negotiating.