AMA report acknowledges Harkin Law repeal effort stalled by AOA-led lobbying

October 24, 2012

A draft report being prepared for the leadership of the American Medical Association (AMA) points to the Capitol Hill lobbying efforts of optometry and its allies for thwarting organized medicine’s efforts to date to repeal the Harkin Law, an AOA-backed measure enacted in 2010 to bar anti-optometry discrimination by health plans.

While the report maintains that the AMA and its allies will continue working toward repeal of the Harkin Law, the report blames the lack of progress on the AOA and its partners by saying that “it must be recognized that the supporters of (Public Health Service Act) Section 2706 (the Harkin Law) are, in themselves, a significant political force…”

The entire AMA document, just obtained by the AOA, can be found on the NewsfromAOA blog at https://newsfromaoa.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/i12-bot-report-08.pdf

The AMA’s acknowledgement after two years that it is not making progress in undoing the Harkin Law is added confirmation that the AOA is increasingly being recognized as an advocacy force in the nation’s capital. Further supporting that fact, the AMA report concludes that there is currently “little interest by potential champions in Congress to put themselves between two powerful health care constituencies.”

In June, the AOA was the only health care group in the nation to be included in a prestigious lobbying “top 10” list based on an annual survey of Washington, D.C. insiders conducted by CEO Update, a publication covering the association sector. Full AOA coverage of that recognition can be found at http://newsfromaoa.org/2012/07/13/survey-of-dc-insiders-places-aoa-on-lobbyings-top-10-list/

Scheduled to be presented to the full AMA Board, the draft report was called for under a resolution approved earlier this year reaffirming the AMA’s desire to overturn the Harkin Law and calling on its volunteers and staff to explain why no progress has been made toward its repeal. The report is slated to be delivered by AMA Board of Trustees Chairman Steven Stack, M.D. at the group’s interim annual meeting in November.

According to the AMA, the group opposes the Harkin Law because it says it would effectively limit the ability of health plans to distinguish among varying health care providers. In fact, an AMA spokesperson asserted earlier this year that “before the (Harkin) clause, insurers could have chosen medical doctors over other practitioners or considered their credentials to be of higher quality…”

The AOA-backed Harkin Law was originally 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, the 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, the AOA will continue working to ensure pro-access, pro-patient provisions included in the health overhaul law are fairly implemented.

“Optometry rallied as never before to become a force in the battle over national health care reform, and the AOA-backed patient access provisions included in the new law clearly show it,” said Ron Hopping, O.D., M.P.H. “The simple fact is that whether anti-optometry groups like it or not, millions more Americans will gain access to their local optometrist because the new federal law we fought for will target the discriminatory practices of health plans.”

“While highlighting the fact that optometry has become a respected force in the nation’s capital, this report also serves as a reminder that organized medicine will stop at nothing to repeal the Harkin patient access law and turn back the clock on our patients and profession,” added Hopping. “As a profession, this only strengthens our resolve. I say, if we have to take on and defeat organized medicine all over again on this issue, then so be it.”

For more information on AOA advocacy and to learn more about how you can get involved, including through the AOA Federal Keyperson Program and AOA-PAC, contact the AOA Washington Office at 1-800-365-2219 or email ImpactWashingtonDC@aoa.org.

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