Effort to repeal Harkin discrimination law sees renewal

January 5, 2013

Within hours of hearing American Medical Association (AMA) leaders blame optometry and its allies for thwarting organized medicine’s best efforts to repeal the AOA-backed Harkin Law, an AMA committee cited scope of practice impact as it called for a renewed and retooled lobbying effort aimed at repeal of the landmark AOA-backed measure to bar anti-optometry discrimination by health plans.

As previously reported by AOA News, a resolution approved early last year called on the AMA Board to explain why no progress has been made toward repeal of the Harkin Law – one of the group’s top advocacy priorities.

In delivering the report, AMA leaders laid blame on the AOA and its partners for the lack of progress, asserting 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 AMA report painted a gloomy picture by assessing that there is “little interest by potential champions in Congress to put themselves between two powerful health care constituencies.”

The AMA report, previously obtained by the AOA, can be found at https://newsfromaoa.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/i12-bot-report-08.pdf.

Doubling down, the AMA legislative affairs committee brushed off the report, reaffirmed its anti-optometry policy, and has called on organized medicine to employ new tactics in an effort to repeal the provision.

The newly approved directive calls on AMA leaders and staff to create and actively pursue legislative and regulatory opportunities to repeal the Harkin Law.

Citing a “collision course with existing state scope of practice laws,” the directive says that the AMA should be in the lead on a “specific lobbying effort and grassroots campaign in cooperation with members of the federation of medicine and other interested components of organized medicine.”

The AMA’s acknowledgement after two years that it is not making progress in undoing the Harkin Law is further confirmation that the AOA is increasingly being recognized as an advocacy force in the nation’s capital.

In June 2012, 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.

The AOA has blocked similar AMA-led anti-optometry campaigns in the past and will continue fighting to preserve the landmark Harkin Law.

According to the AMA, the group opposes the provision because it says it would effectively limit the ability of health plans to distinguish among varying health care providers.

In fact, a spokesperson for the group asserted last year 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 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 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plans – from discriminating against ODs and others in terms of plan coverage and participation.

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

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