Help voice optometry’s priorities at AOA on Capitol Hill: Here’s how

April 20, 2023
This year the AOA’s single-largest annual advocacy experience, AOA on Capitol Hill, occurs in conjunction with Optometry’s Meeting®, June 21-24, in Washington, D.C. Join optometry’s advocates in our nation’s capital.
AOA on Capitol Hill

Be counted among optometry’s advocates as Optometry’s Meeting® hosts AOA on Capitol Hill this summer. This alignment with the profession’s premier event affords the opportunity to not only unite thousands of optometry students, new doctors and educators as part of the reimagined AOA+ experience, but also see advocates in action with the AOA’s single-largest annual advocacy experience, AOA on Capitol Hill. 

Directly connecting the profession’s leaders with national policy leaders, AOA on Capitol Hill is a foundation of the AOA’s federal advocacy efforts—and a key reason why the AOA is consistently recognized as one of the most effective, respected advocacy organizations in the nation’s capital. 
Participation is open to all advocacy-minded AOA doctors and optometry students with sessions intended to prepare attendees to advocate for optometry’s federal policy priorities. Attendees may have the opportunity, in close coordination with their state associations, to participate in meetings with their federal legislators. 

See what you can expect from the AOA on Capitol Hill agenda during Optometry’s Meeting, and before touching down in Washington, D.C., make sure you’re in the know about optometry’s priority issues.

Reforming Medicare pay

While the AOA and others have successfully lobbied in recent years to stop massive Medicare reimbursement cuts targeting doctors of optometry and other physicians, a new set of cuts looms on the horizon. Last year, the AOA pushed U.S. House and Senate leaders to commit to working on a bipartisan basis to overhaul the broken Medicare payment system in this year’s session of Congress.

With lawmakers on track to set Medicare payment policy for the next decade or longer, make sure lawmakers know the key role that doctors of optometry play in caring for the needs of America’s Medicare beneficiaries.

  • Approximately 34,000 optometrists are enrolled as Medicare physicians serving patients in nearly 10,000 communities across the country—and in roughly half of those communities are the only eye doctors available.
  • According to an American Medical Association analysis of Medicare Trustees data, when adjusted for inflation, Medicare payments to clinicians have declined by 22% from 2001–2021.

Stopping health and vision plan abuses

A top priority for the AOA is fighting back against anti-patient, anti-doctor policies of health insurers and vision plans. The AOA is working to fully implement a first-of-its-kind federal law barring health plans from discriminating against doctors of optometry and their patients. Introduced in the U.S. House this past March, the Dental and Optometric (DOC) Access Act, H.R. 1385, is key legislation targeting the anti-competitive and care-limiting practices of plans, and jointly championed by the American Dental Association.

The AOA has a multi-armed strategy to combat these abuses at the federal, state and local level. The reintroduction of this bill, along with its growing support, means optometry’s advocates are making significant headway.

Make sure your lawmakers know the importance of protecting the doctor-patient relationship and putting key health care decisions back into the hands of patients and their doctors.

  • 45 states have enacted laws similar to the DOC Access Act to stop plan abuses; however, a federal effort is now needed as roughly one-third of patients in any given state now have a vision and/or dental plan that is federally regulated and not complying with these state laws.
  • Vision plans enjoy special legal treatment (often not regulated like health insurers) and there is little competition in the market. The two most dominant vision plans provide coverage to roughly two-thirds of Americans with this benefit.

Fairer treatment for veterans

Unfortunately, elements of organized medicine have put turf protection above the needs of America’s veterans. The AOA and the Association of Armed Forces and Federal Optometric Services (AFOS) have made it a priority to fight back. In 2020, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) overturned a 15-year-long ban that had prevented doctors of optometry from providing laser eye care services to veterans. Then, in 2022, the VA dismantled a harmful access-to-care barrier, this time removing a ban on community care doctors providing injections, lasers or eye surgery to veteran patients.

Now, the AOA and AFOS are fighting for fairer pay for VA doctors of optometry and for full recognition in forthcoming National Standards of Practice.

  • VA doctors of optometry today care for nearly 70% of the total unique veteran visits involving eye care services annually, with more than 1.7 million unique and 3.1 million overall patient visits.
  • Roughly 73% of the 2.5 million selected ophthalmic procedures and nearly 99% of services in low-vision clinics and blind rehabilitation centers are provided by VA optometrists.
  • Nearly 1,000 VA optometrists are currently practicing at 95% of the VA sites where eye care is offered and are often the only licensed independent eye care practitioner at many VA facilities.

Protecting patient safety and the doctor-patient relationship

The AOA continues to ramp up its fight to preserve the doctor-patient relationship and better protect patient safety. In 2022, after years of AOA advocacy, federal officials targeted the dangerous practices of one of the biggest direct-to-consumer contact lens sellers. Congress is now upping the pressure, too. Now, the AOA and its Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety partners are working closely to advance legislation on Capitol Hill that would close the robocall loophole—the favorite prescription verification method of unscrupulous online contact lens sellers looking to make a quick buck by doing an end-run around existing requirements and unnecessarily putting the health of patients at risk.

Help your lawmakers understand the importance of protecting the doctor-patient relationship and the eye health of Americans from predatory practices.

  • Craig and Joyce spearheaded a letter signed by 21 House Energy and Commerce Democrats and Republicans calling GAO to report back to Congress on potential holes in regulatory oversight of DTC contact lens sellers.
  • While the FTC and DOJ have already fined a direct-to-consumer contact lens seller $3.5 million for taking advantage of consumers, more can and must be done.

Join optometry's advocates at AOA on Capitol Hill 2024

The AOA’s single-largest annual advocacy event, AOA on Capitol Hill, is April 14-16, in Washington, D.C., and participation is open to all advocacy-minded AOA member doctors and optometry students. Register by Friday, March 15.
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