Congress’ spending bill addresses optometry’s priorities
The final spending bill of the 113th Congress contains a number of optometry-backed measures—reflecting the impact of AOA advocacy work on Capitol Hill.
"Congress is listening and will be increasingly relying on AOA to solve these problems."
On Dec. 16, President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the federal government through next fall. The legislation and related report language contain several provisions that affect the profession. They fund vision care in community health centers and call for optometric inclusion in the National Health Service Corps. The language also calls for stronger enforcement of the AOA-backed provider nondiscrimination provision known as the Harkin law.
The fact that lawmakers addressed these provisions "clearly shows that Congress is listening and will be increasingly relying on AOA to solve these problems," says Roger Jordan, O.D., chair of the AOA Federal Relations Committee. "It also shows that we have much more work to do as we begin the 114th Congress."
Major spending highlights:
- The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will receive $350 million so community health centers can expand access points to vision and other health services. Similar action in last year's bill led to health centers across the country adding new optometry services or expanding existing OD capacity.
- The legislation allocates more than $684 million to the National Eye Institute (NEI). The bill would require NEI to provide an update on cures related to certain blindness-inducing illnesses and vision research in the fiscal year 2016 budget request.
- Congress also included $10 million for the Department of Defense for the Vision Trauma Research Program.
What the report language does
Report language that accompanies the bill does not have the binding force of law. But it does reflect the wishes of Congress and can be instrumental in guiding federal agency planning. The language:
- Directs HRSA "to evaluate the establishment of a demonstration project within the National Health Service Corps in which doctors of optometrys are recognized as primary health services providers." The AOA has long advocated for the passage of H.R. 920, to end exclusion of doctors of optometry from this program, increasing their access in underserved urban and rural areas.
- Admonishes the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for not complying with a directive to correct the agency's interpretation of the Harkin law in its "Frequently Asked Questions" on the law. This provision has led to increased access of medical eye care among autoworkers and workers in other industries.
- Acknowledges the link between healthy vision in children and their school readiness. Specifically, it encourages the Department of Education "to raise awareness of the need to identify children with poor vision and promote options for children from low-income families to acquire prescription eyeglasses."
A Call to Action
Medicare’s latest proposed rule builds on efforts to rein back Medicare Advantage plans with the AOA contributing comments that reiterate the need to eliminate plans’ barriers to care and promote transparency.
Ensuring our nation’s veterans have access to the full range of eye care they need, when and where they need it, has long been a mission for optometry’s advocates. Now, a pair of Veterans Health Administration directives affecting optometry could have far-reaching consequences beyond the nation’s largest integrated health care network.
In a recent one-on-one conversation with Federal Trade Commission staff, the AOA again urges the agency to reconsider a proposal requiring patients to sign forms attesting that they have received copies of their eyeglass prescriptions. For small-business optometric practices, the requirement would be burdensome from a paperwork perspective and unnecessary given that consumers are more empowered than ever, the AOA says—again.