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National spotlight focused on optometry as record number of AOA advocates visit Capitol Hill

May 20, 2012

From left, HHS Deputy Administrator Steve Larsen, J.D., Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, O.D., AOA President Dori Carlson, O.D., and James Devleming, O.D., of Optometric Physicians of Washington.

The national spotlight was focused squarely on optometry as a record number of AOA doctors and students gathered in the nation’s capital April 1-3 to learn more about the most pressing issues facing the profession and to urge policymakers to protect and expand access to comprehensive vision and eye health care for America’s families, including veterans, working men and women, children and seniors.

A joint effort of the 2012 AOA Congressional Advocacy Conference and State Legislative and Third Party National Conference, nearly 700 doctors of optometry and optometry students, including representatives from the National Optometric Association and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, spread across Capitol Hill to help raise new awareness of the profession and to advance the AOA’s pro-access and pro-patient agenda, including:

    • Access to Eye and Vision Care – Securing full recognition for doctors of optometry in Medicaid (H.R. 1219), and full optometric inclusion in the National Health Service Corps (S. 2192, H.R. 1195), and other federal health programs.

  • Children’s Vision – Ensuring America’s children have the tools needed to succeed in school and later in life by fully defining the new children’s vision care essential health benefit as direct access to comprehensive eye exams, follow-up care and vision correction treatment.
  • Medicare – Preserving the Medicare program for current and future Medicare beneficiaries by preventing a more than 30 percent cut in payments to ODs and other physicians scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2013.
  • Patient Access/Provider Competition – Expanding access to high-quality health care services and introducing much-needed competition into the health care marketplace by fully implementing new federal provider non-discrimination safeguards (Harkin Amendment).
  • Military and Veterans Health Care – Ensuring that America’s military service personnel and veterans are not denied or forced to wait unnecessarily for the eye and vision care that they need and deserve.
  • InfantSEE® – Supporting optometry’s sight-saving and potentially life-saving public health and education initiative that offers comprehensive eye and vision assessments for infants at no cost (www.InfantSEE.org).

While the main effort was aimed at maximizing the valuable time spent advocating for optometry’s future in the offices of nearly every lawmaker in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, prior to departing for Capitol Hill, optometry’s frontline advocates heard directly from leaders on the forefront of efforts to implement the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Steve Larsen, J.D., U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Deputy administrator and director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, spoke of the leading role his office is playing in implementing much of the ACA.

Larsen also stressed doctors of optometry could and should play a larger role in coming changes to health care payment and delivery and urged continued engagement by the profession.

Mike Kreidler, O.D., former member of Congress and Washington State Insurance commissioner, spoke of his key role in implementing the new health overhaul law on the state level.

Dr. Kreidler also reinforced the importance of fully implementing new federal provider non-discrimination safeguards (Harkin Amendment) as well as the new children’s vision essential health insurance benefit, which is expected to provide more than 10 million children with new access to comprehensive vision and eye health care.

Nancy Nielsen, M.D., Ph.D., senior adviser at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, provided attendees with valuable information on the important work she and her federal agency colleagues are doing to develop new health care delivery and payment models.

After hearing directly from conference attendees on the primary care role that optometrists play, Dr. Nielsen encouraged ODs to get more involved in new care delivery models, such as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs).
A treat for insiders and novices alike, attendees heard from NBC News’ Chuck Todd and engaged the White House correspondent on the most pressing issues of the day.

Responding directly to questions from dozens of doctors and students, Todd shared his thoughts on the ongoing Supreme Court review of certain provisions of the health reform law and spoke to the state of the race for the White House and control of Congress.

“The size and scope of our 2012 Congressional Advocacy Conference and the concurrent State Legislative and Third Party National Conference – the biggest optometric advocacy event ever – reflects the growing resolve of this profession to be listened to and heeded as important health care policy decisions are being made in the nation’s capital,” said Dori Carlson, O.D., AOA president.

“We could not be more proud of the doctors and students who have sacrificed time with their practices, families, and studies to be here in the nation’s capital to help put a national spotlight on optometry, on patient access issues and on the importance of comprehensive eye and vision care in a way that’s never been accomplished before,” Dr. Carlson added.

“Optometry’s growing national presence and prowess in Washington, D.C., is a direct reflection of the important and ever-expanding role that doctors of optometry play in the delivery of health care in America,” said Ron Hopping, O.D., MPH, AOA president-elect.

“It gives me great hope for the future of our profession when I look back over the last few days and count the record number of optometry students – more than 300 in all – here in attendance,” Dr. Hopping added. “Together, we extended our reach to nearly every House and Senate office. Now, the real works begins and we must again commit to sustaining our increased momentum and building new support for our pro-patient, pro-access agenda.”

To learn how you can help support the ongoing work of optometry’s grassroots army of concerned doctors and students, contact the AOA Washington office at 800-365-2219 or ImpactWashington DC@aoa.org. For full coverage of the 2012 AOA Congressional Advocacy Conference, including video highlights and a powerful advocacy message from AOA volunteer leaders and Dr. Kreidler, please visit the AOA’s Health Care Reform page at www.aoa.org/reform.

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