It’s rare when a war does not end in bloodshed, but such was the case with the so-called “eyeball wars” in Florida. The “war” ended with the passage of HB 239, which permits optometrists in Florida to use oral drugs for eye disease, among other provisions.

“After much soul searching and introspection, everybody looked at it in terms of what’s the best for the patient,” says Kenneth W. Lawson, OD, legislative chair of the Florida Optometric Association, who has been working on this bill for three years.

The legislation, which was signed by the governor on April 19, achieved unanimous votes in both the state house and senate in favor of its passage. “It shows you can have a peaceful and thoughtful negotiation process that keeps the patient at the front,” Dr. Lawson says.

The new law, which takes effect July 1, has several provisions that allow Florida optometrists to better serve their patients:

  • Allows Rx of oral drugs. The bill listed 14 oral drugs that ODs will be able prescribe for eye care; these include analgesics/Schedule III controlled substances, antibiotics, antivirals and glaucoma medications. The legislation also requires that ODs must first participate in a 20-hour online CE review course and exam on oral pharmaceuticals.
  • Codifies comanagement. The legislation mandates state-wide statues regarding comanagement to mirror those of federal guidelines, including informed written consent for comanaged care.
  • Spells out minor procedures. The bill codifies minor “surgical” procedures that fall within the scope of practice for Florida ODs. It doesn’t add any new surgeries, but by specifically naming procedures, it removes any doubt that payers may have about whether ODs are licensed to perform them, Dr. Lawson says. These procedures include epilation, naso-lacrimal probing, punctal occlusion, superficial scraping to remove damaged epithelial tissue or superficial foreign bodies, and taking a culture.

The new law also adds language about reporting adverse incidents.

Eyeball wars aside, the end result is not an “optometry bill” but a “patient access to eye health care bill,” Dr. Lawson says.

“I’m proud to say that I think Florida’s patients are the real winners here,” he says. “Now, there’s a much higher level of patient safety because you’ve got another provider to support the patient safety net. And in the economy we’re in, you need as many safety nets as possible to prevent patients’ eye conditions from rapidly going from bad to worse.”