Optometry is a legislated profession. Time and time again students here this phrase, but rarely are we given more information about what that actually means. It means that the entire scope of practice for optometrists is dependent on bills passed at the local and federal level. It means that there are advocates on the ground year-round working to build political connections in order to put optometry in a position to succeed. When healthcare bills are sponsored, optometry is battling the politics to have a seat at the table for us to have a “piece of the pie.” It means that even though our profession is lightyears ahead of where we were decades ago, we still must fight tooth and nail to defend our interests and continue progressing forward. Things aren’t just given to us like we’re on an episode of the Oprah Winfrey show.
Why should care about the legislative side of optometry?
- Your scope of practice depends on it. Laws don’t always hold and could reverse upon review.
- It could limit your patient base. You may not be legally able to treat certain medical conditions.
- A smaller market of patients could lower your financial potential. Less medical billing, etc.
- We don’t all want to only be refractionists! What about glaucoma and uveitis?!
As students, we go to school for too long and work too hard for us not to be able to practice at our highest potential. We students have a responsibility, or rather, an opportunity, to change our profession in a positive and influential way. I know from experience that politics may not be the most interesting or uplifting topic to discuss nowadays. Heck, if you would have asked me two years ago what I thought about politics, I would have said something like, “It’s boring.” The truth is, it really can be. However, there’s a difference between “boring” political issues we hear about on the national stage, and those that affect you directly. Once I began to realize how heavily optometry rests in the hands of legislation and those fighting for it, I understood the importance of getting actively involved so that I may have a say in how I practice in the future. Don’t you all want to have your voices heard?
As far as issues optometrists have to deal with nowadays, there definitely isn’t a shortage. Some of these include:
- Battling to prevent managed care plans from dictating which labs and materials doctors must use (Dental and Optometric Care Access Act aka DOC Access Act);
- Combatting the practice of optometrists being forced to use labs that insurance companies own (DOC);
- Contesting the act of insurers requiring optometrists to participate in vision insurance plans in order to become providers on medical plans (DOC); and perhaps the biggest threat of all
- The onslaught of persistent attacks from the illegal practices of unscrupulous online contact lens companies.
What these problems all have in common is that they restrict optometrists’ choices, damage doctor-patient relationships, and ultimately are detrimental to patients’ vision care nationwide.
Back to my original topic. What do people mean when they say optometry is a legislated profession? Well, whether you like it or not, politics in optometry is an inescapable reality. We can allow insurance plans, online refraction companies, or other medical professions undermine the way optometrists practice, OR we can get involved in our state and national political optometry associations and be active in deciding the role optometry will play in healthcare as times goes on. It’s about more than “doing your part.” It’s protecting what we have and moving the profession forward, for our sake and for the benefit of patients across the country.
What can you do you help?
- Get involved with your local state association. Student membership is often free. Join your school’s state association student club or start one if it doesn’t already exist!
- Get involved with your school’s AOSA
- Attend local meetings such as your state association meeting, regional meetings such as SECO, and larger conferences such as Optometry’s Meeting
- Speak with legislators on Capitol Hill at next year’s AOA+ Conference in Washington, D.C. (save the date for June 21-25, 2017)
- Support the AOA and the AOA-PAC
- Stay up to date with current issues and legislation and write your representatives!
If you have opinions on this article or on the topics discussed, or if you have additional information you would like to add, I encourage you to leave a comment in the comments section below. Your participation is very important to us at OptometryStudents.com and we would love your feedback.