Optometry practices nationwide to benefit from "phase three" COVID-19 relief legislation

March 25, 2020, 7 p.m. ET

After nearly a week of tense negotiations, U.S. Senate leaders have released the final text of the "phase three" COVID-19 relief legislation called the CARES Act. Although the AOA-backed physician-specific crisis relief provision (S. 3559/H.R. 6365) was not ultimately added to the aid package, Optometry practices nationwide are included in and will directly benefit from the $350 billion in emergency 7(a) loans to be made as soon as possible through local lenders and which would be completely forgiven if used for legitimate business purposes.

In addition to ensuring that optometry is treated fairly under the new 7(a) "forgivable" loan program, the AOA will continue working with Senators Bennet and Barrasso and other champions to secure additional targeted physician relief that doctors of optometry need and deserve. Thanks to the thousands of doctors and students who have been pushing their lawmakers in recent days, support continues to grow for the AOA plan for specific relief for doctors of optometry and other physicians-S. 3559/H.R. 6365-that AOA will continue to push to advance in the days ahead. 

AOA guidance to doctors of optometry on the CDC March 17 announcement on coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis

The AOA supports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) patient care guidance issued on March 17 and the efforts of state and local authorities as well as state boards of optometry to combat further community spread and a wider outbreak. Also of critical importance are immediate efforts to assure continued access to essential health care, including urgent and emergent care provided by doctors of optometry, and to reduce current and expected burdens on emergency departments.

Doctors of optometry are frontline physician providers of essential care. Urgent care is defined as medical care provided for illnesses or injuries which require prompt attention but are typically not of such seriousness as to require the services of an emergency room. Emergent care is defined as medical care for conditions requiring prompt medical attention due to a sudden change in the eye or visual health. Based on the immediate health needs of a patient, doctors of optometry can and should use their professional judgment to determine the timing and course of care, including assessing patient expressed urgency, necessary preventative care and the monitoring and refilling of prescriptions.   

In the current patient care environment, doctors and their essential professional staff have a responsibility to ensure that all fully appropriate care preparation guidelines and requirements are strictly observed. These include CDC Guidance for healthcare facilities

The American Optometric Association (AOA) is closely monitoring developments and will actively provide updates regarding COVID-19 to ensure doctors of optometry and the general public not only understand the risks associated with this pandemic but also have the latest information available for continued patient care. The AOA's priority is to support the health and safety of the public and the optometric community and will continue to assess the situation and update recommendations accordingly.

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kan., discusses COVID-19 challenges for doctors of optometry