Before beginning my first year at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, TN this fall, I had the incredible opportunity to get a glimpse of how my home state’s legislature impacts our profession in Louisiana. Amidst the headache-inducing lawyer jargon, was a statute that was passed nearly 40 years ago to prevent insurance companies from discriminating against optometrists by paying them less than ophthalmologists for the exact same services using the same equipment, procedures, etc. Recently, an insurance company had begun blatantly ignoring this law by discriminating in reimbursements between the two professions (and you can guess which one was getting paid much less!). When queried by the Insurance Commissioner’s Office, they claimed to be operating as a Health Maintenance Organization (which was not listed in the old law because they did not exist at that time) and thus the law did not apply to them. Needless to say, this discrimination was intolerable and was the impetus for writing a broader bill to decree equal reimbursements for ophthalmologists and optometrists from HMOs and other organizations involved in healthcare, as well as insurance companies.
In the face of this discrimination, another slap in the face came from a congressman who stood up during the House of Representative’s floor debate and asked, “There are many optometrists that I know who refer to themselves as ‘doctor.’ Is that just kind-of an honorary degree they place upon themselves?” Allow me to pause to let this sink in. And yes, this is the exact quote from the representative, whose brother happens to be an ophthalmologist.
Fortunately, not everyone shared the same view of optometry as the representative mentioned earlier, as the bill passed 96 to 2. Again, that’s 96 to 2. No big deal – just about as close to a landslide victory as you can get at the Capitol! And just FYI, the bill had also easily passed the Senate Insurance Committee and on the full floor of the Senate, before meeting some resistance in the House Insurance Committee. Afterwards, I was fortunate to attend the signing of the bill in Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s office. This was also a great opportunity as aspiring, practicing, and retiring optometrists, to showcase our passion and commitment to our patients and our profession before such a highly ranked and respected government official.
This legislative charge was led by the Board of the Optometry Association of Louisiana (OAL), who organized a grassroots campaign to work with legislators around the state on this bill. Members of the OAL sifted through piles of documents and diligently sought resolve on this bill while also maintaining their practices. They took it upon themselves to do their homework on this issue on their own time in their own personal lives. So when it comes time for me to pay my dues to state and/or federal optometric associations, I will not sigh and shake my head because I now realize the important duty and hardworking mindset these board members uphold. After all, I would rather practicing and/or retired optometrists dictate our profession’s course rather than insurance companies or other outside entities. Optometry is a legislated profession, meaning nothing is accomplished without state and/or federal legislation; therefore, we must advocate for optometry with these elected state officials. Without the optometry board members’ dedication and initiative, our voice as students and practicing optometrists might never be heard. So next time you see a board member – whether s/he is on your state board or the AOA’s – thank them.
For more information on how legislators impact our profession, read some articles by Matthew Geller, specifically “AOA President Dr. Dori Carlson Delivers Message to White House.”
Special thanks to: Dr. Chris Wroten (past OAL President) for your insight and editorial suggestions and Dr. Cynthia Baker (OAL Southeast Society President) for this opportunity at the Louisiana Capitol.