A bill that has put Pennsylvania optometrists on the defensive is making its way through the state legislature. If passed, House Bill 838 would redefine the practice of optometry by specifying what is—and what is not—considered ophthalmic surgery. The bill specifically prohibits the use of lasers and some other high-tech instruments.

“It will halt any future scope advances we will need as technology and standard of care evolves, and has the potential to limit some of the procedures we have fought so hard for in the past,” wrote Daniel F. Russell, O.D., president of the Pennsylvania Optometric Association, on his POA blog.
Dr. Russell points out that Pennsylvania’s Optometric Practice Act specifically states that the “Practice of Optometry shall not include … surgery, including, but not limited to, laser surgery; [and] the use of lasers for therapeutic purposes.” So, “defining ophthalmic surgery … is unnecessary,” he says.

The Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology, which is promoting the bill, takes a different view: “Changes in technology are blurring the perception of what may be considered eye surgery,” the organization stated in a press release. “Current PA law prohibits non-physicians from performing surgery; however, surgery is not clearly defined in the law. Because of this ambiguity a definition of what constitutes eye surgery is needed in order to ensure patient protection and safety … For patient safety, eye surgery should only be performed by trained medical doctors.”

The Pennsylvania Optometric Association managed to defeat a similar bill before, but HB 838 has gained steam. It was approved in the state House of Representatives on June 22 with a vote of 133 to 68. The bill was then sent to the state Senate, where it was referred to the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure committee.

The legislature is now on recess for the summer, but the committee will likely take up the bill when it resumes in September.

In the meantime, optometrists in Pennsylvania should contact their legislators to talk about the negative effects this legislation would have both for optometrists and for patients, says POA executive director Charles Stuckey, O.D. “It would decrease access, increase costs, and can be viewed as anti-competitive,” he says.

Optometrists across the country should realize that if this bill passes in Pennsylvania, it will be introduced in other states, Dr. Stuckey warns.