SUDBURY -- A Sudbury optometrist has penned a letter of frustration to the provincial government, calling for changes to OHIP and increased support.

Dr. Jamie Maki sent his letter to Health Minister Christine Elliott, outlining his frustrations with the amount of money he must pay himself for every eye exam conducted.

"Prior to COVID, we were already having lots of financial strain with how we were reimbursed with OHIP," said Maki. "The problem is that OHIP reimburses us for half of our cost for doing an eye exam, and that really is a difficult situation to be in as a business owner, as someone trying to provide a service to their patients."

While optometrists across the province are facing the same predicament during the pandemic, it’s a problem that dates back decades, according to the Ontario Association of Optometrists.

"Optometrists and the province have been subsidizing eye care for 30 years due to chronic underfunding," said Dr. Sheldon Salaba, president of the Ontario Association of Optometrists. "Prior to COVID, we were sort of managing that type of loss by seeing patients in higher volume scenarios, but that has been reduced significantly due to COVID social distancing and disinfection requirements."

Pandemic exacerbated the problem

The pandemic has simply exacerbated the problem. Months of forced closure has left the majority of optometrists facing a 90 per cent decline in revenue, and Salaba said many can no longer afford to subsidize the cost.

"It's not this government's problem, but it is their problem to fix," he said. "Because we've been underfunded for three decades, optometrists are subsidizing more than 50 per cent the cost to deliver the service, and that comes out at $173 million currently in a year."

Practices are now facing an entirely new operating reality, after recently reopening after nearly three months closed. With physical distancing requirements limiting the number of people inside at a time, Salaba said optometrists will continue to see reduced revenues.

"We're seeing about 40 to 60 per cent reduction in our available time slots and our practices, and that translates into about two million comprehensive eye exams being wiped out across the province over the next 12 months as long as this scenario remains."

In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for the Minister of Health said the government recognizes the hard work of optometrists across the province. The statement also notes that fees paid to optometrists have increased by nearly 15 per cent over the last five years.

However, Maki said that does not mean any extra government fee support.

"That just goes to show how important our service really is because that means there's 15 per cent more demand over the last five years," said Dr. Maki. "Because they're not paying any more per service, the demand is there."

The Ontario Association of Optometrists is hoping increased awareness will bring what it says is much needed attention to this problem. Salaba said many optometrists may be forced to shut down their practices. Maki fears for his future, as well.

"At this point, post-COVID, if no action is taken I really feel I would have difficulty financially surviving," said Dr. Maki. "If we keep providing the service at the level that the government reimburses us, we are just going to have a very difficult time, there's no question about it."

The Ontario Association of Optometrists has launched a website in order to bring awareness. You can visit it here.