With legislative sessions still active across much of the country, several states are either working on or finding success in passing optometry-related bills. The trend is following a Health and Human Services report earlier this year that advocated for reduced regulations on non-MD providers.
Arkansas’s Act 579—expanding the scope of practice for optometrists in that state—is approved and ready to be enacted. The law give ODs the clearance to perform certain noninvasive laser procedures, injections (excluding intravenous or intraocular) and curettage of chalazia, among others.
Now, in Maryland, ODs are finally permitted to prescribe topical agents and oral pharmaceuticals—with some exceptions—and are no longer required to refer to ophthalmology for open-angle glaucoma treatment, corneal and conjunctival foreign body removal, or ordering labs, cultures or blood tests.
While ODs there are celebrating, practitioners in a number of other states are fighting to replicate their success. Bills in Alabama, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Nevada and Texas are all still making their way through their respective state legislatures. Most have been advanced to various committees.
In Oklahoma, optometry is taking on a different kind of challenge. A group of large retail chains there (primarily Walmart) presented a threat to optometry with a proposed change to the state’s constitution that could shift decisions about standards of care to commercial entities. Although they managed to get a question about the proposed change onto the ballot, the voters rejected it. Now it appears the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians (OAOP) and Walmart are finding a compromise.
The compromise would let doctors and the OAOP maintain independence from big box retailers while still setting up shop—independently—within retail locations, who would sell the prescription eyewear. If passed, the cooperative legislation, SB 100, would essentially override Oklahoma’s current “51% statute” that dictates that any retailer who to sells optical goods must have revenue comprised of at least 51% optical sales and services. In the past, this was a way to keep non-optically dedicated retailers out of the business.
The Oklahoma compromise would also allow the OAOP to add patient protections with regards to the use of telemedicine. It will require that only existing patients who have seen an eye care professional face-to-face within the previous year may obtain a telehealth exam. It’s similar to the law they have in Kentucky, according to Jason Ellen, OD, immediate past president of the OAOP.