ODs in Virginia can now perform three types of laser surgery

ODs in Virginia can now perform three types of laser surgery. Photo: Nathan Lighthizer, OD. Click image to enlarge.

Optometrists practicing in Virginia were met with exciting news this past Wednesday when governor Glenn Youngkin signed identical bills HB 213 and SB 375, which permit the state’s ODs to perform three types of laser surgery: YAG capsulotomy, LPI and SLT. Virginia is now the eighth state in the country, as well as the biggest, to expand the optometric scope of practice to include these procedures.

Lisa Gontarek, OD, who serves as president of the Virginia Optometric Association, said that after several years advocating for the bill, seeing all the efforts come to fruition has been encouraging and worthwhile.

“Everybody has just been really super supportive of it,” said Dr. Gontarek. “Immediately after the bill was signed, we received an influx of calls, texts and emails from our members who have been eagerly waiting for this to happen. Optometrists in Virginia are very excited to be able to offer these services to their patients within their clinic, whereas before some patients had to drive hours to receive this type of care.”

Dr. Gontarek also points out that the bill’s passage gives hope to other states in the process of fighting similar legal battles to expand their optometric scope of practice.

“Because we’re the biggest state so far that has passed this law, I think that can be very beneficial to other states that are trying to do it,” she said. “We're hoping it will be like a snowball effect where other states will start to be successful in their endeavors as well.”

The bill will go into effect on July 1st. Before then, specific regulations will be developed by the state’s board of optometry to ensure every OD in Virginia has the proper training and certification to perform the new procedures. Bo Keeney, executive director of VOA, says that now that the bill has been signed, the process should be finalized fairly quickly.

“We put into the legislation that the education course has to be taught by a college or school of optometry so that there have to be some hands-on and classroom components to the training,” said Mr. Keeney. “We're just really happy to see that for the first time, the training and education of today's optometrist is going to be matched with the scope of practice in Virginia.”

Dr. Gontarek adds that she’s excited about being able to enhance the quality of care she gives to her patients. “I've been seeing some patients in my practice for 15 years, and when I tell them that they're going to need one of these procedures, they ask, ‘can't you just do it for me?’ Until now, I’ve had to say no and send them to someone they’ve never met,” she said. “It will be really nice to have that continuity of care.”

Utah’s Bill Moves Forward to the Senate

Earlier in February, legislation to expand the optometric scope of practice in Utah passed the House with a 48-23 vote. With its continued support, the bill, HB224, will allow ODs in the state to perform YAG, SLT and LPI laser procedures.

“It was a great win for us accomplished through an impressive grassroots effort by our optometrists,” says Weston Barney, OD, president of the Utah Optometric Association. “The bill now moves on to the Senate where we hope to capitalize on our momentum and continue to educate legislators on the advantages of allowing optometrists to provide these laser treatments as we have been educated and trained to do.”

Barney notes that the legislation is facing strong opposition from local ophthalmology and medical associations. Still, he says he is confident that support and advocacy will continue to grow once legislators recognize the adequate training of ODs in Utah and understand the bill’s potential to improve eye care accessibility across the state.

Scope Expansion Denied in Washington

This past January, legislation was introduced to the Senate regarding scope of practice expansion for optometrists in Washington state. In collaboration with the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee, the Optometric Physicians of Washington (OPW) drafted and submitted the proposal, which would have allowed the state’s licensed ODs to prescribe oral steroids and remove benign eyelid lesions, as well as perform select laser procedures, including YAG capsulotomy and SLT. The bill, SB 5542, recently underwent a sunrise review at the state’s department of health, which Kim Jones, executive director of OPW, notes was mostly favorable to the scope update.

“It received a favorable hearing before the Senate Health and Long-term Care Committee, with a number of OPW members testifying or signing in with support,” said Mrs. Jones.

Unfortunately, the bill was subsequently voted out of the committee with a ‘do pass’ recommendation, and on February 17, the Senate ruled it as an X-file, meaning that the bill will not continue to move through the Senate for further consideration.1

As discouraging as the news may be to ODs and advocacy groups in Washington, Mrs. Jones and other leaders at OPW are not giving up hope. “We will start the process again next year. It is a longer legislative season, and we have learned a lot about challenges in the process and our opposition that will help us in next year's battle,” she said.

Colorado Bill Pushes Forward

The Colorado Optometric Association is working to push a bill through the Senate that would sunset and reauthorize the Optometric Practice Act, which would achieve the following major changes in two of its four sections:

1) continue the board and the regulation of optometry for 11 years until September 2033, and;

2) expand the definition of the practice of optometry to include any service, procedure, or treatment that falls within the training and skills of the state’s optometrists.

On February 11th, the bill was debated during the first committee hearing in the House Health and Insurance Committee, where several members of the COA testified in its support.

The next committee hearing will be held on March 23 at 1:30 p.m., where it will be voted on by committee members and determined whether it moves forward. “We anticipate additional COA members will testify in support at the bill’s committee hearing,” said Kelli Catlin of COA. “We anticipate both supportive testimony, opposition testimony and amendments.” Timely updates on the bill, as well as information on the upcoming hearing that can be listened to online, can both be found here: https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/hb22-1233.

SB 5542 - 2021-22 Concerning the practice of optometry. Washington State Legislature. Updated March 11, 2022. Accessed March 11, 2022. https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=5542&Year=2021.