AOA leads coalition response to Harkin law repeal

October 11, 2013

Leading a coalition of 20 national organizations representing the interests of millions of health care providers and the patients they serve, the AOA is at the forefront of an effort to prevent enactment of legislation backed by ophthalmology and the American Medical Association that would overturn a key access to care measure signed into law in 2010 to bar anti-optometry discrimination by health plans.

Rep. Andrew Harris, M.D., (R-Md.) introduced H.R. 2817, which would undo the progress the Harkin law has made for optometrists, other providers and their patients. If passed, it would encourage health plans to eliminate ODs and other non-MD providers from their networks, restrict patient access to essential high-quality care, and rollback increased competition and choice in health care.

Overall, Section 2706 targets health insurance plans – including large employer-sponsored programs organized under the Federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) – that have at times made it policy to summarily deny coverage for the services of doctors of optometry and other health care providers in a purported effort to contain costs. These policies have also been a boon for medical doctors who have enjoyed the financial benefits of restricted competition from non-MD providers.

While the exclusionary health insurer actions that Section 2706 targets harmed ODs and other providers, in the end it is patients who have borne the overwhelming burden. For patients, it has largely meant reduced access to care from the providers of their choice and higher costs to both consumers and the overall health system because the market share is dominated by medical doctors.

The AOA mobilized the American Dental Association and other groups in the Patients’ Access to Responsible Care Alliance (PARCA) and spearheaded a letter (www.accessparca.com/images/PARCA_and_Friends_Letter_Opposing_HR_2817.pdf) signed by 20 leading national organizations and delivered to all U.S. House members in early September urging lawmakers to actively oppose H.R. 2817.

In the letter, PARCA and its allies stressed that Section 2706 should remain law as it targets unfair policies that limit patient access to needed care and result in a windfall for medical doctors who have enjoyed the financial benefits of artificially restricted competition from non-MD providers, including doctors of optometry.

“Limiting patient access to and choice of qualified, licensed, and certified non-MD/DO health care providers, as H.R. 2817 intends, would only further reduce competition while concentrating market share and economic benefit into the hands of select providers – a misguided policy that would harm patient access to needed health care services while increasing costs for consumers and the delivery system as a whole,” PARCA and its allies said in the letter to Congress.

Bolstering ongoing coalition efforts, hundreds of AOA doctors and students fought back against H.R. 2817 during the 2013 AOA Congressional Advocacy Conference.

For more information, visit AOA.org/advocacy.

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