If New Jersey's proposed laser legislation becomes law, it would make the state the 11th in the country to allow optometrists to use lasers in practice. Click image to enlarge.

Joining at least nine other states this year, New Jersey introduced legislation last month that proposes to expand the practice scope for its optometrists. The identical Assembly and Senate bills, AB 5445 and SB 3841, would permit ODs in the state to perform certain laser and other in-office procedures including trabeculoplasty, capsulotomy, iridotomy and removal of chalazion, skin tags and other lesions. The legislation would also expand optometrists’ vaccination and prescription authority.

“Statewide, and in all geographic settings, New Jersey residents are experiencing unnecessary delays in health care, duplication of services and added medical expenses in part because our state’s optometrists are unable to provide certain minor eye procedures that have been performed more than 100,000 times by optometrists in other states,” wrote Jesús Barrios, OD, president of the New Jersey Society of Optometric Physicians (NJSOP), in a recent op-ed for NJ Spotlight News. “Our healthcare system and workforce are strained, and optometrists can be part of the solution,” he stated, pointing out that there are twice as many optometrists as ophthalmologists in the state.

Although New Jersey has one of the most rigorous continuing education requisites in the country—requiring ODs to complete 50 hours of CE every two years to retain their licensure—Dr. Barrios explained in the editorial that the opposition is pushing back against the bills due to concerns about optometrists’ training and skillset to perform the added procedures. He argues this claim, noting that “optometrists earn doctorate degrees upon completion of four years of optometry school, which includes extensive classroom, laboratory and clinical training focused on the eye and its components. All US optometry schools train students to perform the procedures included in this legislation, but New Jersey law restricts procedure authority to ophthalmologists and non-eyecare advanced practice providers,” he wrote.

If the legislation becomes law, the documents assert that the New Jersey State Board of Optometrists must establish the credentialing requirements that state-licensed ODs must fulfill before becoming certified to perform the added procedures.

The NJSOP reports that its team is working with the Assembly and Senate sponsors and hopes to secure the two hearings within the next few weeks. If both committees pass the bills, they will then be sent to the full Assembly and Senate, and from there, on to the Governor’s desk for his consideration and approval.

“We are encouraged by the response we have received so far from these committees and their understanding of why this is important to New Jerseyans,” comments NJSOP executive director, Keira Boertzel-Smith, JD.

As the legislation moves forward this session, Dr. Barrios urges optometrists in the state to reach out to legislators and ask for their support of the bill. “Modernizing the scope of practice for New Jersey’s optometrists will align with current optometric education, training and certification and help attract and retain highly skilled, qualified optometrists to live and work in our state,” he wrote in the editorial.

Barrios J. Op-Ed: Optometrists can help improve access to care and health equity in NJ. NJ Spotlight News. Published May 22, 2023. www.njspotlightnews.org/2023/05/op-ed-optometrists-can-help-improve-access-to-care/?tcs-token=3d74695152c3735ec3c165df5b5bd30c8efa148e0775ec6ac48c11e37b5da8b3. Accessed May 31, 2023.