As the 2013 session of the Florida Legislature is about to kick off next month, optometrists in the Sunshine State are pushing for an expanded scope of practice bill that would allow Florida ODs to prescribe oral medications.

If approved, the legislation would allow optometrists to use “those pharmaceutical agents which are appropriate to treat and diagnose ocular diseases and disorders and which the certified optometrist is qualified to use in the practice of optometry.” This does not include Schedule I or Schedule II drugs. Optometrists in Florida would have to take a pharmaceuticals course and pass an exam before they can prescribe oral drugs, the bill stipulates.

The bill—SB 278 in the Florida Senate and HB 239 in the Florida House of Representatives—will save money, increase access to eye care and save people from losing vision due to treatment delays, according to the Florida Optometric Association. Currently, only two other states—New York and Massachusetts—do not allow ODs to prescribe any oral meds.

“During a time that we, as a state, are focused on providing access to quality care to all Floridians, this is a much-needed and simple fix to current law,” said Senator Garrett Richter (R), who introduced SB 278 on January 14.

The Florida Optometric Association has a video on its website to illustrate the need for this legislation. In the video, a female patient and her optometrist recount how the woman sustained permanent damage to her cornea and subsequent vision loss since her OD was unable to prescribe her an oral anti-shingles medication at the time of her visit.

In addition to better and more immediate patient care, the FOA says this bill will provide significant cost savings of up to $70 million, according to a recent study of Florida Medicaid claims.

The bill also would allow Florida optometrists to be reimbursed for in-office eye infection lab cultures. Currently, optometrists can perform the test. However, under Florida law, optometrists can’t be reimbursed.

In addition, if contact lens delivery systems are approved for administering eye medications, optometrists would be permitted to prescribe these delivery systems as well. At present, Florida optometrists are strictly limited to eye drop and eye ointment medicines.