State leaders’ meeting showcases cooperation

February 18, 2012

Representatives of the Optometry Association of Louisiana (OAL) gather at the Presidents’ Council meeting. From left, Bill Gordon, O.D., OLA president-elect; Jim Sandefur, O.D., OLA executive director; Chris Wroten, OLA immediate past resident; and Jeff Anastasio, O.D., OLA president.

For the first time in recent memory, the meeting of leaders from affiliated optometric associations had representation from all 50 states plus the American Optometric Student Association and Armed Forces Optometric Association.

Attendees at the Jan. 27-28 meeting in New Orleans were intensely interested in AOA finances, trends in membership, the classifications of membership and the relationships between the affiliates and the national AOA.  In fact, a presentation on those topics by AOA Secretary-Treasurer David Cockrell, O.D., slated for one hour lasted two full hours and could have continued longer.

Among the key topics of the meeting was an overview of Electronic Health Records and how the incentives for participation in those programs can help offset the costs of technology investments. State leaders credited the EHR “roadshow” by the AOA as an example of cooperative programs that directly benefit AOA members. 

According to AOA Electronic Health Records Committee Chair Phil Gross, O.D., optometry is ranked ninth among health care professions in payments for EHR incentives, with $11 million being paid to optometrists to date.

In addition, state leaders heard from AOA Washington office Director Jon Hymes on the status of the Affordable Care Act and AOA’s role in securing the Harkin Amendment and including a pediatric eye care benefit in the essential benefits to be offered by state exchanges.

The transition of decision-making from Washington to the states under health care reform was one of the themes of the meeting. AOA President Dori Carlson, O.D., explained that AOA advocacy, including her face-to-face meetings with Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, helped convince HHS to support vision examinations, not screenings, as part of the essential benefit.

However, the guidance from HHS offers a great deal of leeway to states in defining their benefits, and Dr. Carlson urged state leaders to ensure optometrists are involved in state exchanges and health care advocacy at the state level.

State leaders presented overviews of initiatives in the areas of membership, member communications, legislation, third-party participation, InfantSEE® and public health.

Optometry Association of Louisiana Executive Director James Sandefur, O.D., announced that two children with retinoblastoma had been identified in their state because of the profession’s public health programs.

AOA Executive Director Barry Barresi, O.D., Ph.D., described his role in making the AOA operate like a well-run business by focusing on benchmarks and creating a culture of executive management.  He said that in the past, performance has been judged by “looking in the rearview mirror to see if progress had been made.” Instead, he noted, the AOA is now looking side to side to see how the association is doing relative to its peers.  “In terms of business performance, we have not been best in class,” he said. “In terms of advocacy performance, we are.”

His presentation continued the themes of Dr. Cockrell’s: Complex dues structures and underperformance in earning non-dues revenue need more attention.  Dr. Barresi also explained how the decision to cease printing Optometry: Journal of the AOA can help redirect resources to more timely, relevant clinical information published in other media channels.

Dr. Cockrell noted that categories of membership where partial dues and dues waivers are common mean that the AOA’s strong membership numbers don’t translate into strong financial performance. As many as 15,000 members of the AOA, including students and members in partial practice, do not pay full dues. He outlined possible changes to the AOA bylaws that could address the issue and urged state leaders to consider the proposals over the next few months.

Part of the presentation was devoted to dispelling misinformation about the AOA.  For example, contrary to statements that the AOA had lost 5,000 members, Dr. Cockrell noted that, even in a down economy, the actual number of lost members is 264. 

The AOA continues to buck the trend in health associations of declining membership.   Another area of misinformation regards the AOA’s finances, with statements that AOA’s revenues had declined by $4 million.  In fact, that relates to accounts/receivable and is on par with past years at this time.

In an e-mail to all AOA members sent immediately after the meeting, Dr. Cockrell summarized his presentation:

“To focus on the facts and the positive story about our finances, I showed your state leaders how we are positioned to achieve a planned $1 million addition to the AOA reserve funds this year. …Should the AOA innovate with best business practices, which includes program and staffing changes, to be able to increase reserves?  You bet we should.  Prudent cost-cutting is what you do in your practices every day and so does the AOA.

“Will we need to be more nimble in the future regarding how we use our resources?  Absolutely!  With increased demands on our presence in Washington and in support of state efforts, we cannot afford to not examine all of our programs and expenditures regularly.  Your Board of Trustees is willing to move this great organization as quickly as needed to accomplish all goals.”

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