AOA defends doctors of optometry against new attack on Harkin law

September 10, 2013
New bill would repeal landmark provider nondiscrimination provision

The AOA swiftly organized opposition to a bill that would repeal the Harkin law, a landmark provider nondiscrimination provision.

The recently introduced H.R. 2817 would undo the progress the Harkin law has made for doctors of optometry, other providers and their patients. H.R. 2817 is backed by ophthalmology and the American Medical Association. The bill was introduced by Rep. Andrew Harris, M.D., of Maryland, an anesthesiologist serving his second term.

"The AOA is ready, willing and able to fight back."

In response, the AOA mobilized a friendly coalition of 20 organizations, including the American Dental Association, committed to defeating the bill. The Patients' Access to Responsible Care Alliance (PARCA) represents the interests of millions of health care providers and the patients they serve. The group drafted a letter urging lawmakers to oppose H.R. 2817. The letter stresses the importance of the Harkin law in targeting unfair policies that limit patient access to needed care.

The Harkin law is the first-ever federal ban on discrimination against ODs by health insurers, including Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plans with a long history of bias. Originally authored by Sen. Tom Harkin (recipient of the 2013 AOA Apollo Award), the law was enacted in 2010.

"Whether anti-optometry groups like it or not, millions more Americans are gaining access to their local doctor of optometry because a new federal law we fought for specifically targets the discriminatory and anti-competitive practices of health plans," said Mitchell T. Munson, O.D., AOA president. "Both Republicans and Democrats have supported us in the decades-long struggle to assure fairness and patient choice in the delivery of the essential health care services optometrists provide, and we'll continue our efforts in Washington, D.C., to ensure that continues. In fact, if we have to take on and defeat organized medicine all over again on this issue, then so be it."

The fight continues

The Harkin law targets health insurance plans that have at times made it policy to deny coverage for the services of doctors of optometry and other health care providers in a purported effort to contain costs. Medical groups and insurers fought the Harkin amendment at each step of a nearly two-year legislative process. They have renewed the fight in recent months as federal agencies have prepared for full implementation.

Nevertheless, the Harkin law remains on track to provide consumers with greater access to local doctors of optometry of their choice.

"The AOA is ready, willing and able to fight back," Dr. Munson added.

AOA members can read the latest from the  AOA Advocacy Super Conference and contact their representatives in Congress to speak out against H.R. 2817. To learn more about this issue, supporting AOA-PAC or joining the Federal Keyperson program, email Jon Hymes, AOA Washington office director, or call 800.365.2219.

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