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Updates from the American Optometric Association (AOA)

Optometry’s advocates fight to advance profession

The single-largest annual advocacy event and centerpiece of optometry’s national advocacy efforts, Virtual AOA on Capitol Hill was held Sept. 9-10, with over 750 registered doctors, paraoptometrics and students advocating for optometry’s federal policy and regulatory priorities at what may prove to be among the most consequential timings in the Hill day’s history.

Even as U.S. House and Senate leaders debated new COVID-19 relief and stimulus bills, optometry’s advocates had scheduled nearly 300 meetings with members of Congress and their staffs to discuss priorities ranging from future COVID-19 recovery measures and the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) burdensome Contact Lens Rule change to fundamentally changing contact lens prescription verifications and countering vision plan mandates.

Ways to get involved in AOA’s advocacy:

  • Visit AOA’s Legislative Action Centerto learn more about these and other priority federal issues, and take immediate action in support of optometry’s advocates. Use the Action Center to write a letter, make a phone call or post to social media telling your federal lawmakers and officials to support these advocacy priorities.
  • Become an AOA-PAC investor, one of the easiest and most powerful ways to make an impact in AOA’s ongoing advocacy efforts. Consider donating to AOA-PAC


Optometry, patients win in Arkansas as ballot challenge is invalidated

Arkansas’ optometric scope of practice law won’t be up for public referendum in November’s general election after the state’s high court ruled in favor of optometry’s advocates, paving the way for doctors of optometry to provide expanded eye health care to their patients.

In opinions published Sept. 17, the Arkansas Supreme Court granted Arkansans’ for Healthy Eyes petition challenging the validity of a ballot referendum effort brought by the ophthalmologist-led “Safe Surgery Arkansas.” The high court ruled that “Safe Surgery Arkansas” failed to follow requirements for collecting signatures—specifically, the group failed to certify that their paid canvassers had passed criminal background checks, as noted in a special master’s report—thus invalidating the majority of the signatures collected. The efforts of Arkansans for Healthy Eyes have been strongly supported by the Arkansas Optometric Association, the AOA and state optometric associations across the country and thousands of concerned doctors of optometry who mobilized to fight back against a misinformation campaign that has targeted the much-needed new law.

“The AOA will continue helping state affiliates work toward advancing their respective scope of practice laws so that Americans can benefit from 21st-century optometric eye health and vision care,” says AOA President William T. Reynolds, O.D.


Contact Lens Rule Modernization Act introduced in the U.S. Senate

A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on Sept. 17—backed by the AOA and the Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety—would eliminate contact lens prescription verification robocalls and would thwart Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plans to require prescribers to get signed acknowledgment forms indicating patients’ receipt of their contact lens prescriptions.

Introduced by Sen. John Boozman, O.D., R-Ark., Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the legislation would replace the signed acknowledgment with a requirement to post “conspicuous” signage in practices notifying patients of their right to a copy of their contact lens prescription, as is current law in California. Further, significantly, the bill includes a provision outlawing the use of disruptive and unreliable prescription verification robocalls.

The paperwork and record-keeping mandate is due to go into effect Oct. 16. The AOA has vigorously fought the FTC rule changes.

To take action:


AOA task force takes steps to open opportunities for doctors of color

At a time of national reckoning on racial injustice, the AOA is looking inward to assess if it can do more. On June 9, the AOA issued a statement on the national dialogue that erupted on the nation’s streets following the death of George Floyd.

In late June, AOA President William T. Reynolds, O.D., appointed a board-level Diversity and Inclusivity Task Force. Beyond the statement and task force, the AOA Board of Trustees has affirmed additionally the following task force actions:

  • Engaging member doctors of color in conversations to gain their perspectives and thoughts on what could be done differently.
  • Continuing to build diversity in its volunteer structure, including directing the Membership Committee to explore more effective recruitment and leadership development of non-white doctors of optometry.
  • Helping to promote participation by optometry schools at “Impact HBCU,” a virtual gathering Oct. 6 for students attending historically black colleges and universities that will showcase optometry and the eye care industry while building a “pipeline” to the profession.
  • Encouraging the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry to expand its “Optometry Gives Me Life” campaign to include a message to attract more diversity in enrollment in optometry schools.
  • Arranging for additional staff training on diversity and inclusiveness.

The AOA has long been committed to access, whether for doctors or patients.


VA rescinds laser policy, opens path to full recognition of optometric care

Elimination of a restrictive Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) policy on laser eye procedures represents progress toward affording the nation’s veterans with the same level of access to optometric care enjoyed by other Americans.


In an update to the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA’s) Eye and Vision Care policy on Aug. 18, the administration rescinded a previous directive that effectively limited veteran access to therapeutic laser eye procedures at VA medical facilities and, in turn, issued a new directive that emphasizes the use of interdisciplinary care. This recent VA action is one in a series of access-focused efforts, including an April 2020 policy underscoring that veterans are best served when all VA doctors of optometry and other essential care providers deliver care with full practice authority.


The VA’s new policy change eliminates a May 5, 2020, directive that limited laser procedures only to ophthalmologists due to safety concerns and updates the VA’s Eye Care Handbook to include a new definition of laser eye procedures that specifically notes “therapeutic laser eye procedures in VHA are currently performed by only ophthalmologists and ophthalmology residents.” Additionally, the handbook outlines how ophthalmologists become qualified to provide these procedures within VA.

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