Optometry’s advocates convene for AOA’s Congressional Advocacy Conference

Optometry’s advocates convene for AOA’s Congressional Advocacy Conference

Fighting on behalf of patients and the profession, advocacy leaders are in the nation's capital early next week to make optometry's voice resonate.

AOA's Congressional Advocacy Conference, April 17-19, in Washington, D.C., assembles AOA-member doctors, leaders and students not only to help advance the profession's legislative priorities, but also to take those concerns directly to lawmakers.

At last year's conference, more than 500 AOA-member doctors and students met with legislators about Medicare's sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula just hours before its repeal, and the session's special summit on aging helped influence the White House Conference on Aging.

Building on that momentum, this year's conference seeks to garner even more support for AOA-backed legislation, as well as address the profession's other top priorities, including cracking down on unscrupulous Internet contact lens sellers and ensuring that telehealth, as well as so-called "online eye exams," are not used as a replacement for in-person, comprehensive eye exams.

Build support for AOA-backed legislation
The conference fully prepares attendees to build support for AOA-backed legislation, including three bills that hold great promise for the profession.

The Dental and Optometric Care Access Act (H.R. 3323) is pro-access, pro-patient and pro-competition legislation aimed at leveling the playing field for patients and their doctors by targeting some of the most offensive health and vision plan practices. Bipartisan support in Congress continues to grow, but more must be done to ensure that it remains a priority.

Likewise, a continued push for H.R. 1312 and S. 898, legislation to reinstate doctors of optometry into the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), is necessary to give doctors the opportunity to serve an underserved population while competing for debt forgiveness.

The AOA also continues to build support for H.R. 1688, an AOA-backed bill that would require the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs to add new residency slots for doctors of optometry. The new slots would be an increase of 10 percent over the next five years and is aimed at relieving wait times for veterans to access the eye and vision care that they need and deserve.

Learn about CMS' new Merit-based Incentive Payment System
A major payment change is just over the horizon, and congressional conference attendees have the opportunity to learn how it will impact them. In a continuing education course led by Chris Wroten, O.D., AOA Federal Relations Committee member, and Jeff Michaels, O.D., AOA Quality Improvement & Registries Committee chair, doctors will receive an overview of the new Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), future payment changes and how registry use intersects with the new program. Being prepared for this major payment change is essential for all doctors of optometry that provide care for Medicare patients.

Last year's conference coincided with repeal of Medicare's SGR through the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA).  That law creates a narrow pathway to higher Medicare payments, largely through a consolidated and expanded incentive program called MIPS.

Starting in 2019, MIPS will combine elements of the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), Value-Based Modifier (VBM) and EHR Meaningful Use into one system, and begin rating doctors based on a 100-point scale that reflects performance on quality, resource use, clinical practice improvement activities and meaningful use of certified EHR technology. MACRA's new quality-improvement efforts focus greatly on the use of clinical data registries, making AOA MORE an even more important AOA member benefit.

Click here to read more about the benefits of AOA MORE on doctors' PQRS collection.

Fighting back against the inappropriate use of new technologies, unscrupulous online vendors
Contact lenses, though a regulated medical device, are a safe and effective vision correction option for nearly 40 million Americans.  However, the U.S. Center for Disease Control has reported that that Keratitis, a painful and sight-threatening but preventable eye infection linked to improper contact lens use annually causes nearly 1 million emergency room and urgent doctor visits and $170 million in added costs to the health care system.

Working closely with the AOA, leading Members of Congress—including Senators David Perdue (R-GA) and John Boozman (R-AR) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA)—are urging the Federal Trade Commission to launch a crackdown on Internet sellers who break the law and undermine contact lens patient safety. Conference attendees will be updating lawmakers on Capitol Hill on how unscrupulous Internet sellers threaten the eye health of patients and will urge their support for stronger enforcement.

When used appropriately, telehealth services can offer new access points for those living in remote or underserved areas, help providers better communicate with patients and colleagues, and help doctors monitor patients with chronic diseases.

However, telehealth poses serious drawbacks when used inappropriately, including the potential for disrupting the doctor-patient relationship and putting patients at increased risk for delayed or missed diagnosis and care opportunities. This is especially true when telehealth is used as a replacement for in-person comprehensive eye exams provided by an eye doctor. Only a preventive and primary eye health and vision care intervention can diagnose and ensure treatment for the complete range of vision and eye health issues.

Currently, advocates for a much broader use of telehealth are urging lawmakers to support a sweeping expansion of telehealth under Medicare and Medicare Advantage. AOA advocates will be given the tools necessary to educate lawmakers that nothing replaces an in-person comprehensive dilated eye exam performed by an eye doctor.

Want to join the conversation?
Follow AOA's social media on Facebook and Twitter, and visit aoa.org/eyesonthehill for the AOA's social media aggregator with live updates from the conference's approved hashtag, #EyesOnTheHill.

April 1, 2016

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