Advocation for Our Profession
My favorite event of the year is AOA on Capitol Hill. Each year, students and optometrists from across the United States convene in Washington D.C. to discuss political issues related to optometry. The energy is electric with impassioned ideas about the future of the optometric profession, and discussions about how the AOA will navigate the profession through changing political climates and legislative attacks on the profession. So much happened this year, I’d like to recap some of the biggest take-away points from the event.
Each year, the AOA focuses on several major legislative issues. These can be related to bills, changing trends in healthcare, and business practices. This year, the conversation was centered around five major concerns:
- Fight the FTC’s contact lens paperwork proposal, which would use more doctors’ time without benefit for the patient
- Support the passage of H.R. 1606 Dental and Optometric (DOC) Access Act. This act regards doctors’ freedom to choose suppliers independent of insurance regulations
- Improve the contact lens prescription verification process for sales of contact lenses to ensure that patients’ orders reflect the contact lenses prescribed
- Oppose remote-screening technology in the Veterans Affairs Hospitals, known as the Technology-based Eye Care Services (TECS) program
- Listen and learn more about the options and proper uses of telehealth in eye care
The two days spent advocating begin with a series of talks. These talks were designed to inform ODs and students about how to meet with legislators and aides. We also learned about the talking points to be discussed on Capitol Hill. As a legislative profession, our optometrists are the voice of our scope and how we are allowed to practice.
There are a variety of exercises that students and ODs took part in. These exercises ensures that we could effectively communicate our message in a short meeting with a legislator or aide. There are many different groups in D.C. advocating for their causes during this time of the year. If the message is not clear and concise, it can get lost among the many other meetings that staffers and representatives are taking throughout the day.
Attendees had the opportunity to hear political pundit Kristen Soltis Anderson speak about her predictions for the next 18 months leading up to the 2020 election. She also discussed what the American public can expect to see and hear moving into election season. She predicts that no divisive legislation will be announced and that no radical moves will be made by either the Democrats or Republicans This is in an effort to maintain the status quo among their respective bases. There was much discussion about the future of one big topic on everyone’s mind: the future of healthcare. While these are only theories, it was interesting to hear her predictions on how the run-up to the election will play out.
Capitol Hill Visits
On Tuesday, students and optometrists descended on the Capitol for their meetings with state representatives. As quickly as the day arrived, it was over before we knew it – that happens when you spend more time walking around the Capitol office buildings than in meetings! I was fortunate enough to be able to attend several with optometrists from my home state of Colorado, as well as dropping by a meeting with a group of ODs from California where I am attending school.
Last year, as a first year student, I had no idea what to expect when it came to meeting with legislators. Returning for a second year, I felt more empowered to contribute where I could and make sure that the student voice was heard.
It was especially moving to speak with Colorado Representative Jason Crow about a situation in the Veterans’ Affairs hospitals that could impact future students’ rotations.The TECS program is an initiative being introduced to remotely provide diabetic vision care and follow-up appointments remotely with ophthalmologists, which ultimately is designed to reduce patient chair time and in-person visits when monitoring a patient with diabetes.
As a veteran himself, Representative Crow expressed his concern about any changes that might affect quality of care for veterans. Representative Crow also mentioned that he had no idea how many optometry students relied on the VA system as a part of their medical training in the field and how integral the field of optometry was to providing services to the men and women of the US Armed Forces.
It is talking points like these that help representatives and aides, who might not even understand the difference between an optician, optometrist and ophthalmologist, gain perspective into the profession.
I hope that I will have the opportunity to attend AOA on Capitol Hill again next year – it is truly an eye-opening experience to be a part of the political process and speak for the students who cannot attend to voice their own opinion. Optometry is alive and well in America, but only because of the hard work and dedication of the AOA, its volunteers, supporters, and students. The work may not be exciting work to some, but for anyone interested in the political process and speaking out for the profession, this meeting is the most rewarding experience of my career as a student in the profession of optometry. I would encourage all to attend next year, and I hope to see you there.