The Congressional Advocacy Conference is where students and optometrists meet in Washington, DC to advocate for our patients and our professions’ best interests. We accomplish this by talking to Representatives and Senators and their aids in support of bills that help both of our patients and the profession as a whole. This year the conference will be taking place from Sunday April 17th to Tuesday April 19th.
Why should I go?
This conference is the most effective way to make positive change in our profession. Optometry is a legislated profession, and much of the way we practice is dictated by state and federal laws. In order for us to change the laws or keep the laws that are favorable to us, we need to educate legislators on what optometry is, why optometrists are important, and why these laws are good for our patients and us.
What are the issues are being advocated?
The main legislative issue we are advocating for is H.R 3323, which is the Dental and Optometric Care (DOC) Access Act. This bill will stop restrictions on medical plan participation (such as participating in vision care plans as a condition to be on the medical panels), limitations on doctors choice of lab, and mandates on non-covered services (such as anti-reflective coatings on glasses and other materials). The AOA and the American Dental Association (ADA) have working to get this bill passed but we have been facing stiff opposition from insurance companies. Optometry needs as many advocates as possible to get this bill passed.
Other legislation that will continued to be advocated for are H.R. 1312 and S. 898, which would allow optometrists to be reinstated into the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) (ODs were once included in this program). The NHSC allows doctors to participate in loan repayment and scholarship programs while working in underserved areas and community health centers.
The AOA will also continue to gain support for H.R. 1688, which would require the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs to add new residency slots for doctors of optometry, providing veterans with decreased wait times and increased access to care.
Lastly, we will be fighting back against new technologies and online contact lens sales which threaten patient safety.
What happens at the conference besides the lobbying day?
There a few other events that take place besides the actual Lobbying Day on Tuesday including:
- Lobbying 101: Students learn exactly how to lobby and talk to congressmen and staff
- Social events including a reception on Sunday night and a student bar night on Monday night
We hope to see you all in Washington, DC in a few weeks!