Excerpted from page 5 of the July/August 2017 edition of AOA Focus.
Advocating for optometry begins—and ends—with our patients. That's something I learned early on in my career: fighting on behalf of quality care, access and safety for patients is how we advocate for this profession.
When I started practicing in 1986, I can remember the disadvantage that optometry had in accessing and providing care to patients covered by Medicare; ophthalmology was in, and we were out. It was less of an 'aha' moment than a gradual realization that the system was stacked against optometry and the only way to right the wrong was through professional advocacy.
This was optometry standing up for Medicare patients, demonstrating that quality, optometric clinical care was right there in their community. It was simply a question of access, and these patients didn't have it. We fought hard on behalf of these patients and won, becoming recognized as physician providers of medical services for the largest payer in the country. Our victory for Medicare patients is but one example of how our advocacy efforts benefit our patients and the public.
I've served on AOA's Board of Trustees for nearly a decade, and as I begin my term as AOA president, our advocacy efforts will continue to focus on two important themes: access and equality.
Patients must have access to optometric care. Nondiscrimination protections, and ensuring that doctors of optometry are fully able to participate in the health care plans of their choice, are key to assuring access. Access also means a scope of practice that reflects the training and experience of optometric physicians not limited by archaic legal restrictions foisted on the public by a medical monopoly.
We also fight for equality. Being treated equally with other physician providers is only fair. We must demand equal treatment based on the care we provide to our patients, not the letters represented by our degree. But there's only one organization that is providing the kind of support to affect change on behalf of our patients, and that's the AOA and your state affiliate.
Change doesn't happen by itself. Whether you believe in politics or don't, you need to believe in your patients and engage in the process. Again, we're facing big questions in health care. The American health care system has never needed optometry more, so it's more important than ever to stand united as a profession and fight for our ability to provide critical, quality primary eye and vision care.
So, stand with me and the AOA as we face these challenges, known and unknown, together.
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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.
The AOA continues its support of optometry students, advocating for a temporary suspension of student loan debt due to the pandemic, as well as a long-term avenue toward loan forgiveness and repayment.