COVID-19 crisis advocacy: AOA and affiliates put optometry's concerns front and center
As doctors of optometry navigate a new country forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the AOA and state affiliates are delivering relentless, 24/7 advocacy for doctors and optometry practices at the national level and in all 50 states. Following each legislative, regulatory and payer advocacy battle, the organizations are providing information to help doctors rise above the crisis, restart practices and prepare to resume delivery of complete, comprehensive care.
"I just opened my practice three weeks prior to having to shut down," said Lauren Haverly, O.D., St. Paul, MN doctor and AOA volunteer. "It was hard, but having the AOA and MOA on my side made it easier. I was more informed from those incredible webinars, and I was even telling some of my family and friends how to use a PPP, EIDL and so forth. Thanks to my AOA family, I know I am going to survive and be able to continue to provide important eye health and vision care in my community."
Through continuous outreach to policymakers, payers, the news media and the public, the AOA and state associations are advancing these urgent priorities:
Supporting practice reactivation
Under evolving federal, state and local guidance, optometry practices across the country—recognized as essential from the crisis's early days and a key to easing burdens on hospital emergency rooms—have reopened or are preparing to reopen to offer comprehensive care. The AOA and state affiliates have ensured that optometry's primary care role is fully recognized in government directives and that doctors have access to the most current patient care information and practice restart requirements and recommendations.
Holding plans accountable
Health and vision plans must recognize the increased costs connected to personal protective equipment (PPE) and other public health protocols now being put in place. The AOA is taking that message directly to plans along with calls for immediate suspension of all questionable payment "clawbacks" and audits for the duration of the crisis and a detailed package of administrative and coverage restriction relief. To keep the pressure on every plan that refuses to support doctors and patients at this critical time, the AOA and state affiliates will be working with state insurance commissioners and other enforcement officials.
Fighting for PPE cost relief
As highlighted on the #AskAOA Practice Reactivation webinar, doctors of optometry are adapting their practices to an array of new federal, state and local guidance on patient care and public health safeguards, including the use of PPE and observing social distancing. In addition to pressing for fixes to the domestic supply chain, the AOA is insisting that Congress, federal agencies and payers take steps to recognize the increased costs doctors of optometry face in acquiring adequate PPE.
Expanding crisis relief to more doctors
Many doctors of optometry are receiving federal crisis relief support through Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grants, but others have not received the help they need and deserve. The AOA is pressing Congress and federal agencies to do more by prioritizing further relief specifically for physician health care practices expanding HHS grants for doctors, improving PPP loan forgiveness terms and extending student loan aid to cover more borrowers. Concerned doctors and students can act now to build new support for these efforts and help ensure that optometry is heard loud and clear as key decisions are made in Washington, D.C.
Securing full patient care and COVID-19 testing
The AOA's focus on full recognition of optometry's physician role has produced opportunities during the crisis to offer doctor of optometry-directed, reimbursable telehealth services for patients. Similarly, under a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) rule just implemented, and sought by the AOA, CMS will allow doctors of optometry to gain authority to order COVID-19 tests and to be paid for specimen collection related to testing.
Building public awareness
Through AOA's 24/7 media advocacy, the public is learning how doctors of optometry have helped their home communities meet the challenges of the public health emergency, including by easing burdens faced by hospital emergency departments. Also, at a time when some companies are using the crisis to claim that unapproved devices can offer eye health and vision care, the AOA is exposing false ads and reminding America that there is no substitute for a comprehensive eye exam provided by a doctor of optometry. Concerned state attorneys general, consumer watchdogs and the investigative media are also educating and informing the public and making patient safety a nationwide priority.
"This is our profession's most challenging moment, and it was unimaginable to all of us just weeks ago," says Barbara L. Horn, O.D., AOA President. "Together through our dedication to our patients and profession, and through our organization-wide commitment to state and national advocacy, our goal is to have it remembered for all time as optometry's finest hour."
Stay informed with the AOA's COVID-19 guidance and resources
AOA members can connect with vendors through AOAExcel ®'s group purchasing organization (GPO) for long-term access to hospital-grade, quality-controlled PPE at competitive pricing.
The AOA continues to closely monitor all developments in the U.S. public health response to COVID-19, as well as institute an all-out mobilization on behalf of the profession that includes not only 24/7 advocacy for optometry, but also launching an unprecedented, multifaceted relief and recovery package.
Given the evolving nature of this pandemic, the AOA remains committed to providing the most up-to-date information, relevant care guidance and resources, and timely reports on federal actions through AOA's COVID-19 Crisis Response page. This online resource includes:
- New recommendations for the reactivation of optometry services in the form of AOA's Optometry Practice Reactivation Preparedness Guide.
- The AOA Health Policy Institute's "Doctors of Optometry and COVID-19" statement and FAQ.
- #AskAOA COVID-19 webinar series.
- State-by-state COVID-19 resources and information.
- Latest information from CDC and White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Congress’ Sept. 15 deadline for bill language passes with lawmakers backing key guardrails that AOA’s advocates say must be in place for a workable benefit. Yet, price tag developments may forestall efforts.
A September deadline means now is the time for AOA members to act. Attend an upcoming special advisory group session for the latest legislative information and contact your members of Congress.