Optometrists in Oklahoma practice on the frontier of the profession, with state laws allowing minor surgical procedures like SLT, capsulotomy and more. With underserved rural communities in need of care, they made their case to expand their scope of practice—and then delivered. Time and again, Oklahoma ODs have shown themselves good stewards of the profession’s reputation by living up to the duties entrusted to them by the passage of these permissive laws. 

The word optometry signifies high quality, broad-scope care in Oklahoma. Now that word is in jeopardy of being rebranded to fit the high volume, limited-scope care Walmart likely wants for its stores. 

Long shut out of optometry in Oklahoma, Walmart is fighting back with an appeal to voters themselves. A consumer advocacy group with backing from Walmart is pushing a ballot initiative that would wrest control over optometry from the state board and give it to corporations. The proposal “does not prohibit optometrists and opticians from agreeing with retail mercantile establishments to limit their practice.” 

In other words, it’s open season on optometry. If Walmart wants to define the profession as a refraction-and-retail mill, curtailing clinical services, this would give them that right. Oklahomans walking into a Walmart would effectively cross into a Bizarro Oklahoma where ODs don’t do what they do everywhere else in the state.

How does that serve the public interest? The argument boils down to ‘half a loaf is better than none.’

First, advocates make it sound like they’re playing the same access-to-care card optometry itself used for expanded scope of practice, but with lots of fear-mongering talk about how lobbyists and special interests have kept kids and old folks from getting the eye care they deserve. “Low-income households are economic victims of the eye care monopoly” is a typical line you’ll find on the group’s website, www.yeson793.com. Nevermind that hundreds of independent practices operating without coordination is hardly a monopoly—scary words trigger emotions.

Next, they do admit some surgical procedures ODs perform won’t be part of their version of optometry. So how, then, is this helping those needy old folks with glaucoma or posterior capsular opacity? Well, it isn’t. But Walmart is hoping the prospect of low budget eyecare will be enough to sway public sentiment. Then, beholden to no one, they can remake optometry however they choose.

Walmart built its business on price and convenience. But when it sells brand-name products, they’re the same as anywhere else. You can buy Cheerios or Budweiser or a Samsung TV at Walmart and get the exact same product as from another retailer. Now, it’s trying to sell a store-brand knock-off of optometry while trading on the brand name’s goodwill. That would be like selling a 64-piece box of Crayola crayons that only has 50 in it and hoping kids won’t notice.

Sorry, Walmart, you can’t do that. You don’t own that brand. And if you can’t stock brand-name optometry, don’t stock it at all.