July 1 marked the end of all optometry and optical services for adults under
Cutting these benefits comes at a critical time.
While were acutely aware of the states budget problems, the elimination of the kind of affordable and quality vision care that optometrists provide to Medi-Cal patients with limited resources will have serious consequences, says Hilary Hawthorne, O.D., president of the California Optometric Association.
Under federal Medicaid law, optometrists are not defined as physicians, and their services in
But, there are twice as many patients who receive eye examinations from optometrists and are dispensed optical lenses than there are patients receiving similar services provided by ophthalmologists, Dr. Hawthorne says.
For example, Jay H. Messinger, O.D., is the only optometrist in
Dr. Messinger is equally concerned about how the cutbacks will affect the population he serves, which has high risks for ocular disorders.
Diabetes and hypertension are endemic to the African-American and Latino populations who reside in
Optometrist Robert Shapiro estimates that the patient base of his downtown
Seven out of 10 Californians see an optometrist first for their eye care needs, with many Medi-Cal patients among them, Dr. Hawthorne says. At a time when optometrists are becoming a key entry point into quality and affordable eye and health care for Californians, this roll back of Medi-Cal optometric services is penny wise and pound foolish, she says.
One possible solution: Change the federal law for Medicaid so that optometrists are defined as physicians for the purposes of providing care. To that end, Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Ralph Hall (R-Texas) have introduced the Optometric Equity in Medicaid Act (H.R. 2697), a bi-partisan bill that applies the Medicare definition of optometrists as physicians to Medicaid. Soon after its introduction on June 4, the bill was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
In the meantime, Dr. Messinger hopes he wont have to cut back hours or begin laying off employees. I certainly did not expect to have to make severe adjustments at this point in my professional career. But, he says, My staff and I are certainly up to the challenge and will be meeting regularly to discuss strategies and adjustments during the coming weeks.