AOA on Capitol Hill shines national spotlight on optometry’s advocacy priorities

April 11, 2019
Nearly 600 doctors of optometry and students bring AOA’s pro-patient, pro-access message to nearly all of the 535 members of the 116th Congress.
AOA on Capitol Hill

Doctors of optometry and students—energized and eager—­­charged Capitol Hill this week, armed with key facts and figures supporting priority federal advocacy asks aimed at increasing access to the essential vision and eye health care that doctors of optometry provide.

They met with lawmakers and their staffs, after two days of briskly paced AOA briefings, and sought support for optometry's top legislative priorities including the AOA and American Dental Association (ADA)-supported DOC Access Act and the new AOA and Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety (APS)-backed Contact Lens Prescription Verification Modernization Act.

Other priorities include thwarting a proposal by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that would create unnecessary and costly contact lens paperwork for doctors and improving eye care for veterans and using telehealth technology appropriately. It's an AOA meeting unlike any other.

"The heartbeat of AOA is advocacy," says Samuel D. Pierce, O.D., AOA president, standing amid the swirl of events at AOA on Capitol Hill, April 7-9. "These few days, when we are in Washington, D.C., is an amazing time.

"This is the opportunity to learn about what's going on and then go to the Hill and literally fight the battle for optometry and for our patients," Dr. Pierce adds. "We are the health care providers for the eye. We want our patients to have the best vision, the best eye health, possible. Nothing will speak to a legislator more than a visit from a constituent, especially young constituents. It's an energizing, invigorating, fire-in-your-belly experience for everyone who comes here."

Delivering the AOA's messages

Delivered in a matter of minutes to either a member of Congress or their staff member, hundreds of doctors of optometry and students used shoe leather and talking points to sway support­. Among the AOA's priority issues:

Fighting costly health and vision plan abuses

The AOA and the ADA are again backing the bipartisan DOC Access Act, sponsored by Reps. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, and Buddy Carter, R-Georgia, to address abusive vision and dental plan practices and to help put patients and their doctors back in control of important health care decisions. A lack of competition and other factors have led to costly mandates being forced on patients and their doctors. This week, AOA doctors and students were asking for new co-sponsors to match the momentum from last session's 105 co-sponsors in the 115th Congress.

Stopping the FTC's unnecessary contact lens paperwork proposal

Contact lens safety and strict, fair marketplace enforcement are top priorities for AOA and optometry's advocates, especially throughout the FTC's protracted regulatory review of the Contact Lens Rule. A proposal—a paperwork mandate that AOA and state affiliates argue is both unfounded and overly burdensome on prescribers—created a swell of opposition. Since being unveiled, the proposed mandate has been opposed by the AOA and optometry's advocates who have worked to educate lawmakers about how it could impose annual compliance costs in excess of $18,000 per doctor, per year without doing anything to crack down on the very real threat of illegal contact lens sales. More than 100 senators and House members, as well as congressional committees, have weighed. The AOA is asking senators to sign on to a letter from Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, in support of withdrawing and reworking the flawed FTC proposal.

Making the contact lens prescription verification process simpler, safer

AOA, in partnership with APS, is backing new legislation that responds to lawmakers' call for greater efforts aimed at curbing illegal contact lens sales. The new legislation, called the Contact Lens Prescription Verification Modernization Act, seeks to make the process simpler and safer by disallowing automated calls for the certification of contact lens prescriptions. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Illinois, is the leading champion of this legislation, which would also empower consumers by requiring online contact lens sellers to provide consumers the ability to directly upload a photo of their prescriptions.

Supporting essential vision, eye health care for veterans

The AOA, Armed Forces Optometric Society (AFOS) and state affiliates  continue to fight for better vision and eye health care for America's veterans. Among these important issues is the VA's rollout of an experimental eye examination replacement program, known as  Technology-based Eye Care Services (TECS), which would provide some veterans with substandard care based solely on where they live. The AOA has spoken out against the program and leading members of Congress have joined the fight, including Sen. John Boozman, O.D., R-Arkansas. And the national Veteran Service Organizations continue to share concerns with the VA experimental TECS pilot program, which is now operating in Georgia, Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois and Montana.

Preserving the doctor-patient relationship

The doctor-patient relationship is important for meaningful patient care, which is why the AOA continues to argue for  the appropriate use of telehealth services as a supplement to high-value, high-quality eye and vision care. Moreover, telehealth may miss diagnoses otherwise easily detected and treated through an in-person visit with their doctor of optometry. The AOA fully supports the use of new technologies that increase access and improve patient health outcomes, yet patients must continue to receive the standard of care and their health shouldn't be compromised by improper use of telehealth technologies.

Read more about the AOA's priorities.

Largest Leadership Link on record

AOA+ Leadership Link hosted its biggest event ever with over 250 optometry students and doctors of optometry participating in the networking program in Washington, D.C. Sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Vision, the program creates an opportunity for students to ask doctors about practicing and for doctors of optometry to share their insights on starting out and the profession. Registration is now open for the next Leadership Link event, June 20 at Optometry's Meeting® 2019.

Optometry's champions recognized

Once again, those legislators and government officials who advance efforts related to eye and vision care were recognized with AOA Health Care Leadership Awards. This year, the AOA Advocacy Group recognized six leading members of Congress during Tuesday's Breakfast with Optometry's Champions, including:

  • Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Oklahoma, who understands the pressures that small-business doctor of optometry practices face. He assists in the AOA's fight against the FTC's proposed contact lens paperwork mandate, supports a better prescription verification process, plus curbing anticompetitive practices of vision plans.
  • Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, who sent a strong message to the FTC opposing the unnecessary and costly proposed Contact Lens Rule. She also arranged a meeting between the AOA and the U.S. Surgeon General to help facilitate a partnership promoting comprehensive eye care.
  • Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pennsylvania, who previously served in the Pennsylvania State Senate and has consistently championed expanding access to health care, improving education opportunities and lowering taxes.
  • Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, House majority whip, is a longtime champion of optometry. He ensured that the AOA-backed pediatric vision care essential health benefit was included in the Affordable Care Act and that the benefit was defined the way millions of kids needed it to be—as an annual, comprehensive eye exam and materials. 
  • Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, who consistently demonstrates his support for pro-health care access and pro-patient policies. He supports the DOC Access Act targeting abusive vision plan practices and works with the AOA to prevent illegal contact lens sales.
  • Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Delaware, who serves as an assistant whip in the House and sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where she champions solutions for rising health care costs and issues of access to care. 

To learn more about AOA's priority federal issues and to act by asking for your lawmaker's support, please visit the AOA's Online Legislative Action Center. AOA doctors and students should also consider becoming a 2019 AOA-PAC investor­—one of the easiest and most powerful ways to add your voice to ongoing advocacy efforts. Invest in AOA-PAC or by texting "EYES" to 41444.

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