Massachusetts House Bill 3608 would make it so that every OD in the state receives the same licensure, as well as modify the language in optometry’s definition that currently prohibits ODs from referring to themselves as optometric physicians. Click image to enlarge.
The definition of optometry in Massachusetts was first established back in 1934, and shockingly—despite monumental change and advancements in medicine over the last century—the law has not been touched since. Eager to change this, the New England College of Optometry in association with the Massachusetts Society of Optometrists (MSO) and its advocates introduced a bill (HB 3608) in March of this year proposing to modify certain aspects of the outdated document.
To put into context how obsolete the definition of optometry is in Massachusetts, Wayne Zahka, OD, past president and current executive director of the MSO, notes that “it speaks of optometrists having a high school education, taking optics courses, it uses only male pronouns and it specifies that we cannot be habitually drunk, along with a lot of other nonsense.” The law also prohibits optometrists from referring to themselves as optometric physicians, which most other US states have allowed for many years.
HB 3608, currently residing in the state’s Joint Committee on Public Health, has two primary objectives that will most profoundly affect the profession. The first: An updated definition would allow Massachusetts ODs to advertise and refer to themselves as optometric physicians. The second: Every OD who applies for licensure in the state would have to apply for and qualify for the highest licensure, whereas now optometrists in Massachusetts possess one of four licenses depending on which courses and training they received in their schooling. The level of licensure dictates which procedures and services each OD is legally allowed to provide, regardless of scope laws in the state.
“In 1986, we passed a diagnostic bill, so with the way the current system works, anyone who received their license before 1986 and didn’t take the course is not able to practice diagnostics,” Dr. Zahka explains. The same rule applies to those who became licensed before therapeutics were added to the practice scope in 1993 and glaucoma care was added in 2021. “We want to ultimately have one license level, with everyone practicing at the highest level,” he says.
The bill would not change the level of licensure for practicing ODs in the state, but rather ensure that every optometrist who becomes licensed in the future would enter the profession at the same level. “All this bill is saying is that over time, the differing licenses are going to go away, which will make everything safer and easier,” Dr. Zahka states.
Though HB 3608 is more of a housekeeping bill than a proposal for scope expansion, ophthalmology is still using its typical anti-optometry tactics to discourage its passage. However, the MSO is confident that with continued advocacy, the bill will ultimately make its way to the finish line.
A hearing was held last month on September 18 before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Health, which has yet to decide about the legislation’s next steps. Since the state employs a two-year legislative cycle, the current session doesn’t end until July. “Any time between now and then, we’re hoping that the bill begins to move and gain some traction,” says Dr. Zahka.