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AMA Commits to Renewed Attacks on Harkin Patient Access Law, Optometric Standing in Eyes of Patients and Public

July 11, 2012

After being dealt a series of setbacks on Capitol Hill by optometry, the American Medical Association (AMA) and its medical specialty allies have announced plans for renewed attacks on the landmark Harkin patient access law and a renewed and refocused campaign aimed at undermining optometric education and diminishing ODs in the eyes of patients and the public.

During its annual meeting held this year in late June, the AMA House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for the AMA and its medical specialty allies to work together and with other like-minded groups toward full repeal of the Harkin patient access law through aggressive Capitol Hill lobbying and direct outreach to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other top agency officials.

The AMA-passed resolution claims that the new Harkin patient access law would effectively limit the ability of health plans to distinguish among varying health care providers. In fact, an AMA spokesperson publicly asserted soon after the approval of the anti-optometry resolution that “before the clause, insurers could have chosen medical doctors over other practitioners or considered their credentials to be of higher quality…”

The AOA-backed Harkin patient access law was opposed by organized medicine and the health insurance industry at each step of the nearly two-year health care reform battle in the nation’s capital. Starting in 2014, this first-ever federal standard of provider non-discrimination will bar health insurers – including ERISA plans – from discriminating against ODs and others in terms of plan coverage and participation.

Through a full mobilization of advocacy resources, AOA has turned back similar AMA-led schemes opposing hard-won provider non-discrimination safeguards that seek to assure full recognition of optometrists by health plans. Going forward, AOA will continue working with pro-optometry partners on Capitol Hill to ensure that pro-access, pro-patient provisions back by AOA and included in the health overhaul law are fully and fairly implemented.

At the annual meeting, the AMA House also approved a separate resolution calling for a renewed and refocused effort aimed at enacting so-called “truth in advertising” laws on the state level. Organized medicine’s ongoing campaign to advance such anti-optometry laws have been closely linked to the AMA’s Scope of Practice Partnership – a nationwide advocacy campaign aimed at, in part, shrinking optometry’s scope of practice and diminishing the profession in the eyes of patient and the public.

The AMA resolution claims that new “truth in advertising” laws are needed to help “ensure patients are properly informed when making health care decisions…” Similar efforts in the past have focused on uniting doctors of medicine and osteopathy in opposition to the increasing use of optometrists and others in primary care. An example of such an effort on the national level is “truth and transparency in health care” legislation sponsored by Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) and strongly back by the AMA and a number of medical specialty societies.

However, after being defeated multiple times on Capitol Hill, rebuffed by two leading Washington, D.C. free-market think tanks, and most recently suffering the loss of their lead Congressional champion on this issue to an AOA-backed primary challenger, the AMA and its allies appear to be abandoning efforts to enact these types of laws on the federal level and may instead be focusing resources on state-level efforts.

In fact, despite AMA aggressively backing Rep. Sullivan’s push for new FTC controls over how ODs practice and provide care for patients, the group seems to be rethinking its strategy. In response to FTC involvement in an ongoing scope of practice battle in one state, AMA’s then-President Peter Carmel said in a letter to FTC officials that “it is crucial that licensing boards carry out the responsibilities assigned to them by state legislatures without being intimidated by federal overreach from the FTC.”

Nevertheless, AOA will continue to fight these types of anti-competitive campaigns on the federal level and stands ready to help states vigorously oppose new state-level controls on how ODs practice and provide care for patients. For more information on AOA Advocacy and how you can get involved, including through the AOA Federal Keyperson Program and AOA-PAC, please contact the AOA Washington Office by calling 1-800-365-2219 or by email at ImpactWashingtonDC@aoa.org.

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