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ODs encouraged to contact Congress in support of AOA-backed Medicaid, NHSC improvement bills

April 25, 2013
AOA volunteer leader and professor at the Southern College of Optometry in the Pediatric Service, Glen Steele, O.D., at left, recently spent some valuable time with the new ranking member of the Senate Health Committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). Originally in the nation’s capital to represent optometry at a national conference on children’s health care issues, Dr. Steele discussed key eye and vision care issues with Sen. Alexander, including the need make optometrists eligible once again for the National Health Service Corps program.

AOA volunteer leader and professor at the Southern College of Optometry in the Pediatric Service, Glen Steele, O.D., at left, recently spent some valuable time with the new ranking member of the Senate Health Committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). Originally in the nation’s capital to represent optometry at a national conference on children’s health care issues, Dr. Steele discussed key eye and vision care issues with Sen. Alexander, including the need make optometrists eligible once again for the National Health Service Corps program.

AOA doctor and student advocates helped secure record levels of support for optometry-specific legislation in the last Congress. Thanks to their efforts, the National Health Service Corps Improvement Act (H.R. 920) and the Optometric Equity in Medicaid Act (H.R. 855) were introduced into the new 113th Congress with broad bipartisan support.

Sponsored by Reps. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), the AOA-backed National Health Service Corps Improvement Act aims to bring doctors of optometry into more underserved urban and rural communities by ending the misguided exclusion of optometrists from the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) student loan repayment and scholarship programs.

Through the linkage to a national network of community health centers, the NHSC program helps to provide greater access to quality health care services, particularly primary and preventive care, for millions of Americans who might otherwise be forced to do without or delay care until conditions become emergencies.
With a mission to prevent, detect, and treat conditions before they need costlier interventions, community health centers benefit greatly from having doctors of optometry on staff and as part of the primary care team.

However, according to a 2009 report by George Washington University, only 11 percent of community health centers nationwide had full-time eye care professionals on staff in 2009 and less than one-third even offered any on-site vision services.

To better connect optometrists with the rural and urban community health centers that need their services, Reps. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) joined their colleagues as original co-sponsors of H.R. 920.

Optometric Equity in Medicaid Act

Sponsored by Reps. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the AOA-backed Optometric Equity in Medicaid Act seeks to avert a potential crisis in access to primary eye care for Medicaid patients by amending the federal Medicaid statute to fully recognize optometrists.

Doctors of optometry were recognized as physicians in Medicare in 1986. And as a result, for 25 years, America’s seniors have been able to choose their local optometrist for covered primary eye care.

Unfortunately, in Medicaid, for too long there has been restricted access and few, if any, choices when it comes to essential eye health.

Although optometrists have long provided the bulk – recent estimates indicate up to 81 percent – of primary eye health and vision care through Medicaid, the program too often fails to fully recognize optometrists to offer covered medical services they are trained, licensed and ready, willing and able to provide.

John Coble, O.D., at left, enjoys an afternoon visit with Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), the lead U.S. House sponsor of the Optometric Equity in Medicaid Act (H.R. 855). Joining Dr. Coble and Rep. Hall is George P. Bush, at right, the eldest son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and recent appointee to a top spot in the Republican Party of Texas.

John Coble, O.D., at left, enjoys an afternoon visit with Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), the lead U.S. House sponsor of the Optometric Equity in Medicaid Act (H.R. 855). Joining Dr. Coble and Rep. Hall is George P. Bush, at right, the eldest son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and recent appointee to a top spot in the Republican Party of Texas.

In addition to restricting access to care, existing law allows bureaucrats and, increasingly, managed care companies to make important medical decisions for patients who need eye care.

For working men and women, this type of outdated provider discrimination can result in delayed or even denied care for eye diseases such as glaucoma, serious infections, foreign bodies in the eye, undiagnosed vision disorders or even diabetes, the leading cause of acquired blindness for adults.

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Wash.), David Cicilline (D-RI), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), William Keating (D-Mass.), Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Lee Terry (R-Neb.), and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) have joined on H.R. 855 as original co-sponsors.

AOA members are encouraged to visit the AOA’s Online Legislative Action Center at http://bit.ly/12M8XRK and click “Read More” for more information on these optometry-specific pieces of legislation.

Members are then urged to click “Take Action” to send an electronic letter to their elected officials urging them to co-sponsor both H.R. 855 and H.R. 920.

2 comments

  1. It would be great if you had the form letters set up so that we could send the letters to congress automatically by putting in your zip code. It’s very quick and effective and you could make a follow up telephone call.


  2. Thanks for commenting. At the end of the article there’s a link to the AOA’s Online Legislative Action Center that allows you do this. Click take action and the letter will appear.



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