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Straight talk on the new national health care law and vision plans: A message to optometry from Dr. Mike Kriedler, optometrist, former member of Congress, and Washington Insurance Commissioner

February 9, 2012

Dear Fellow Optometrist:

As an optometrist, a former Member of Congress and, today, the longest-serving elected state insurance commissioner in the nation, I am especially pleased that the 2010 national health care overhaul law recognizes the full scope of optometric eye health care, including the medical services we deliver, and takes specific and much-needed steps to stop stand-alone insurers from isolating and trying to define our profession.

Under the new law, stand-alone vision plans, including VSP, may participate in health insurance exchanges in every state, but they must do so by contracting with qualified health plans which must offer coverage that is seamless for patients and doctors. That this means these companies will no longer be able to limit optometric care only to vision services is a major victory for optometry, though I understand these companies are irresponsibly and selfishly claiming otherwise.

In fact, I strongly favored the seamless approach to the delivery of eye health care throughout the national debate over health care in 2009 and 2010. I even wrote a letter, as Washington State’s elected Insurance Commissioner, urging Congress not relegate vision care to stand-alone service status, like dental services, within state exchanges. I commend the American Optometric Association (AOA) for taking the same position and advocating so effectively for optometry.

It is my understanding that there are still some in our profession who think we are better off as a stand-alone vision benefit. They are wrong. Why have we, as a profession, pushed for enhanced scope of practice? How do we integrate the role of primary eye care providers? You know the answers as well as I do. We either advance the profession or we do not. Stand-alone is a step backwards. It’s time has come and gone in the brave new world of health care reform.

Yes, there are real opportunities for O.D. professional advancement. Yes, there will be change and some of us will handle it better than others. It’s been like this before and, like then, we have to choose to go forward, and not opt for the status quo. As a profession, we either advance as part of professional eye care or we risk becoming the candlestick makers before Tom Edison’s light bulb invention.

As Washington State’s Insurance Commissioner, I am in the middle of health care reform’s implementation. I work closely with federal agencies and the nation’s state insurance regulators. Even as I write you, our state legislature is in the process of designating me as the person to choose the Essential Health Benefits for Washingtonians under health care reform. Yes, this is a heavy responsibility – which I do not take lightly- along with many other duties, as we lead up to full reform in 2014. This is why I write to you. I understand and can appreciate the role of primary care professionals like us. We are a critical part of this health care team. Stand-alone vision relegates us to a professional backwater and not part of the essential eye care team.

I urge you to support optometry’s professional advancement. Please oppose any suggested moves that will take opportunity away from us. Stand-alone vision is such a move.

Sincerely,

Mike Kriedler, O.D., M.P.H, F.A.A.O.
Insurance Commissioner

Click here to view Dr. Kreidler’s letter to Optometry on the new national health care law and stand-alone vision plans.

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