Several pieces of legislation have been introduced in at least three states threatening the recognition of ODs as physicians. Photo: Getty Images.

Optometrists and advocates such as the American Optometric Association (AOA) are actively pursuing scope expansion bills in numerous states while simultaneously fighting to have doctors of optometry recognized as physicians under federal law. The Dept. of Veterans Affairs, for example, recently introduced the VA CAREERS Act, which would add doctors of optometry to the list of physician-level providers in its system. New national standards of practice are also being developed by the VA.

In response to the growing momentum of scope expansion efforts, the opposition—mainly extremist medical and ophthalmology groups—is scouting legal avenues to push back, most recently by introducing legislation in Florida, Connecticut and Texas that could potentially block, limit or discourage optometrists from being referenced as doctors or physicians, the AOA reported in an article on its website.

Notably, the AOA reported that doctors of optometry are not explicitly referenced in any of the three states’ bills. “Any anti-optometry language has been rooted out and is being actively opposed by affected state associations and the AOA,” the association stated in its article. However, it noted that concern does lie in the possibility “that the restrictions on titles could later be used to attack the qualifications of doctors of optometry, in particular those who specialize in certain areas of optometry,” the article reads. “In addition, the proposed ban on the use of the term ‘physician’ in any capacity potentially conflicts with the recognition of physician status for optometrists under federal law.”

Among the handful of anti-optometry bills in play, Florida’s Senate Bill 230 could be the most threatening to the profession, suggests Mark Marciano, OD, president of the Florida Optometric Association. He noted in the AOA article that SB 230 “has the potential to directly impact the perceived role optometrists play in providing access to quality eye care for Floridians throughout the state.” The legislation, introduced last month on February 9th, relates to healthcare practitioners’ titles and abbreviations used in their advertisements, communications and personal identification. In addition to outlining the grounds for disciplinary action and denial of licensure by practitioners’ regulatory boards, the bill also states that “only physicians may include titles and abbreviations or medical specialties in their advertisements.”

Florida’s proposed legislation is slated for a hearing later today. Look for updates in our news feed if any significant action is taken.

Other states are exploring similar legislation. On February 14th, a similar bill—HB 2324—was introduced to the House in Texas, relating to the regulation of certain healthcare professionals and facilities and the adoption of civil and administrative penalties. “In Texas, we are currently monitoring this type of legislation that would affect the nursing profession but does not affect optometry in the bill's current form,” Tommy Lucas, OD, director of advocacy for the Texas Optometric Association, commented in the AOA article. “States should remain vigilant in protecting patients from confusing public policy that would potentially delay and hinder their important eye care.”

Connecticut’s bill, SB 1016, was introduced most recently on March 2nd with the title “An Act Concerning Truth In Advertising By Health Care Providers.” As it currently stands, this bill’s text also omits optometrists; nevertheless, the AOA emphasizes in its article the vital importance of pushing back against such legislation.

“The bills being exposed in a number of states reveal the linkage to the American Medical Association (AMA) years-old campaign to build support for the ‘Sullivan bill,’” noted the AOA, referencing the AMA-backed national effort in 2012 to pass “Not a Doctor” legislation, which the AOA and affiliates successfully shut down. According to its analysis, the AOA warns that “there are indications that the AMA also is resurfacing its public-facing ‘truth in advertising’ campaign,” which the AOA noted it triumphantly challenged in the past. Legal, legislative and communications teams at the AOA have been working to inform and counsel state associations regarding the pending threat.

The decades-long fight to have optometrists recognized as physicians in the field of medicine continues on. Supporting the efforts of organizations such as the AOA and educating lawmakers on the safety and value of pro-optometry laws will help combat the spurious claims of the opposition.

American Optometric Association. Optometry’s scope wins draw new attacks from medical, ophthalmology groups. Published March 9, 2023. Accessed March 13, 2023.