Bill to expand optometrists’ scope of care, aided by political money, continues rapid progression through General Assembly

A bill that would considerably expand optometrists’ scope of care cleared the House Licensing and Occupations Committee in an hour-long meeting this afternoon, the latest move in its speedy progression through the General Assembly.

Senate Bill 110 was introduced last week and was passed 33-3 by the full Senate last Friday. It passed through the House Licensing and Occupations Committee today by a 14-2 vote. It will likely be considered by the full House Friday, The Courier-Journal‘s Tom Loftus reports.

Loftus reported this morning that legislators have received more than $400,000 from optometrists’ political action committee and its individual members, with 137 of Kentucky’s 138 legislators and Gov. Steve Beshear receiving campaign money. The Kentucky Optometric Association, which employs 18 lobbyists, has given more than $327,000 alone in the past two years through its PAC. (Read more)

“In 2010, optometrists gave $249,273 to all political candidates, including local candidates,” Beth Musgrave reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Ophthalmologists, in comparison, gave only $575 in 2010, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.” (Read more)

Both sides are running advertising campaigns, but the ophthalmologists and their fellow medical doctors seem to be behind in that competition, too. A radio ad from the Kentucky Medical Association this week urged listeners to call their senators, though the bill had already passed the Senate.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Robert Stivers of Manchester, left, extends the scope of care optometrists can provide, most notably allowing them to conduct some laser procedures usually performed by opthamologists. “These are considered minor, non-invasive laser procedures,” Dr. Joe Ellis, a spokesman for the Kentucky Optometric Association, told Kentucky Health News. “They’re most commonly performed when a person has cataract surgery. There is a membrane that clouds over and they would be allowed to remove that.”
Nationwide, only optometrists in Oklahoma are allowed to perform this type of laser procedure, Ellis said. They have been permitted to do so since 1998.
The bill would also allow optometrists to “remove lumps and bumps around the eye,” Ellis said, which is currently only permitted in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina. It would also allow optometrists to do what Ellis termed “routes of administration.” “Like if a person had an inflammation around the eye, you can inject a steroid to reduce inflammation,” he said, adding nine states allow optometrists to do that.
The proposal would also allow optometrists to prescribe certain drugs, and would let the state Board of Optometric Examiners define what procedures optometrists could legally perform. Supporters say it would make certain types of eye care more available in rural areas, which have few ophthalmologists.
Physicians take issue with the proposal, saying optometrists are not properly trained to perform the procedures. Critics are also suspicious over the speed with which the bill is moving. An editorial in the Herald-Leader today says, “We’ve long known that politicians are blinded by political money,” the opinon piece says. “If this bill becomes law, some of their constituents could be, too.” (Read more)
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