Update From The Hill

Optometry students have an extremely powerful impact on the profession of Optometry and this is clearly evident in today’s article written by SUNY 2010 Intern, Paul Heeg.

The article summarizes Paul’s trip to Washington where he represented and spread knowledge to 10 congress representatives about the key bills that that must be passed in order to keep profession of Optometry alive and strong. Not only did Paul talk about these bills but he truly educated these representatives about vision care and its importance in communities all across the United States.

Paul’s hard work and his dedication to go above and beyond sure paid off, for he is one optometry student unlike the rest. This article you are about to read was written before the new health care legislation was passed. The exact bills that Paul Heeg was fighting for have now been included in the new health care package, and this just goes to show the power that the students voice has on our profession.

Keep in mind that we are busy generating a new article about exactly what the new health care legislation is doing to the profession of Optometry. We know that there is lots of news flying around but you can count on OptometryStudents.com to deliver you accurate and up-to-date facts about what is going on in the world of eye care!

Update from the Hill
By Paul Heeg
Class of 2010 Intern at SUNY Optometry

On March 2nd through 4th, I had the rewarding opportunity to see firsthand the kind of hard work that has been done for our profession on a daily basis in Washington.  When you take a step back and look at our profession, it is quite amazing to see the progress that we have made starting from a back room in a jewelry store to the frontline in optometric care that optometrists enjoy today.  It’s also a wakeup call in how fast change can occur with a swipe of a pen.

Regardless of your involvement with the American Optometric Association, I would like to update you of some key bills that may impact us all as we are in the climate of health care reform.  One thing that is for certain is the fantastic role that the AOA has had in the discussion of reform.  It were not for the AOA initiative and foresight in looking at the language of the health care reform, amendments like the Ross amendment (house) and Harkin amendment (senate) that prevent discrimination may never have occurred.

Let’s take a step back and imagine a world where we could not bill medically, where many of our 92 and 99 ICD-9 codes would be rejected by the panels we one day will find ourselves on.  How would you feel?  Pretty discriminated against!  Well, that may have been the reality if we allowed language that would discriminate non-MD health professionals like us in Washington.  Fortunately, we won that victory in both the house and senate bill of this health care reform, however, we are still faced daily with the threat of removing those amendments.

Now, some of you reading this newsletter may ask yourself, “this healthcare bill may not even have a lasting effect, especially because of the amount of disunity with the issue”.  Well, with the recent progress, that certainly may be the case, but much like a game of chess, we need to be ready for moves against our profession, except in Washington we are not playing for fun, we are playing for the patients well being.  Without staying one step in front of the curve, we may find ourselves again in a situation like the back room of a jewelry store, unable to practice to the fullest scope.

As this being my update of the progress being made in Washington, I am going to spend some time to hit on some of the major bills that I had the opportunity to represent to ten congress representatives in the House.  Unfortunately, I was unable to talk to our state senators however, a group of doctors representing New York State talked to the office of Senator Gillabrand.

One of the first bills we discussed was HR 2697, which is the Schakowski-Hall optometric equity in Medicaid act.  What this bill changes is the recognition that optometrists are physicians under Medicaid.   Some doctors that I have spoken with question how far in the medical realm we should pursue, however, regardless of your viewpoint, this bill is key to support since it prevents policies that may discriminate ODs from participation in Medicaid.  This is the case in California, as cut backs caused corrosion in vision care as Medicaid policies cut optometrists off.  What resulted was crowded offices and fewer providers.  As any optometrist who has taken the optometric oath, we must be at the forefront of patients well being.  A bill like this one needs both our focus and attention at a national level to prevent a crumbling of our vision care nationwide.

*Secondly, a bill of importance that we discussed was the HR 577 or S259, vision care for the public about the importance of vision care in children through 61 million dollars in funding.  In addition to the education portion of the bill, this bill would allocate resources to children who just cannot afford a proper eye exam.  One statistic that many legislative representatives found interesting was that 1 in about every 4 children suffer from an undiagnosed vision problem.  This statistic is just unacceptable.

A bill that I recognized from last year was still on the table, HR 1884, the National Health Service Corps Improvement Act.  What this bill does is encourage optometrists to locate in community health centers through loan forgiveness programs that we were once apart of before 2002.  Currently, only 11% of community health centers have full time optometrists, and only 30% of community health centers have some sort of vision coverage.  As we know, the importance for the success of all populations, both rich and poor is the ability to see well and comfortable.  In these economic times, this is a budget neutral bill in that there would not be any further investment from the government, it would just qualify ODs to be able to participate in the program once again.  Fortunately, we have the support of a wide variety of organizations.

The last bill that we discussed was a bill that recognizes a fallen optometrist, Major Charles Robert Soltes who unfortunately was killed by an improvised explosive device in October of 2004 while serving our nation in the Iraq war. As a memorial, we would like to name a blind rehabilitation center at the Long Beach VA after Major Soltes.

In closing, the future of our profession continues to be bright.  However, that is only possible because of the hard work of people like you donating your time and resources to promote patients’ wellbeing across the nation.  If you have not done so, please be sure to write your congress  or senate representative addressing these bills if any of these bills strike you as they did me.  You can do that through several ways, one is getting connected with AOA-PAC and signing yourself up as a key person to your local state house or senate representative.  Second, you can donate to the AOA-PAC fund.  The effort that we accomplish in Washington is only through your hard work as ODs and optometric professionals.  Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter as I hope you have gained a greater insight to last week’s events in Washington DC at the 2010 AOA Congressional Advocacy Day.▪

-Paul Heeg

Scroll to Top