Optometry’s advocates mobilize during Congressional recess
Congress' hiatus from Capitol Hill puts optometry's grassroots network into overdrive, bolstering support among lawmakers for important AOA-backed federal issues.
All doctors and students play a crucial role in the AOA's ongoing advocacy work.
During the recess, AOA Federal Keypersons and other concerned doctors and students have a crucial opportunity to meet with their representatives and reinforce the essential role that doctors of optometry play in the health care system.
Top legislative issues
While optometry's advocates discuss AOA priority federal issues during this time, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with key topics and consider how you can help boost efforts by becoming involved in federal advocacy.
National Health Service Corps Improvement Act (H.R. 1312/S. 898)This legislation aims to expand access to eye health and vision care by ending the exclusion of doctors of optometry from the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) student loan repayment and scholarship programs, which are key federal incentives for a range of health care providers to extend care to medically underserved communities around the country. Currently, this bipartisan legislation has 91 co-sponsors in the House and 14 co-sponsors in the Senate.
Expand Access to the Essential Eye Care America's Veterans Need and Deserve (H.R. 1688)This legislation would amend the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 to help decrease wait times for the essential eye care veterans need by directing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to increase the number of optometry residency positions by about 10% over the next five years. Eye care clinics staffed by VA doctors of optometry, including residents, are among the busiest primary care settings in the VA health care system. Lengthy wait times can make it more difficult and even discourage veterans from seeking care they need. Currently, this bipartisan legislation has 26 co-sponsors in the House.
The AOA has not only worked to build support for legislation benefitting patients and the profession this session, but also has protected against unfriendly efforts, as well.
A bill introduced earlier this year (H.R. 1741), a retread of the anti-optometry "Sullivan Bill" of years past, sought to undermine recognition of doctors of optometry as doctors and physicians, while another bill, also introduced in a previous Congress, aimed to repeal the AOA-backed, federal provider nondiscrimination law.
But thanks to AOA efforts, the former received only meager support, while the latter did not receive a single co-sponsor in the previous Congress and has not been re-introduced in the current Congress.
Other priority issues
In an update to AOA Federal Keypersons, recent AOA Congressional Advocacy Conference attendees and state affiliate leaders, the AOA urged doctors and students to join the effort to combat false claims of online eye "exams."
The AOA is actively combatting misinformation and false claims about so-called "online eye exams" in every way possible, including by educating and informing the public and other health care organizations, the news media and government officials, including members of Congress and medical device regulators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
As AOA President, Steven A. Loomis, O.D., has said, "AOA is not opposed to cutting-edge technology. But AOA is opposed to bad patient care. When technology is abused in a manner that undermines the critical doctor-patient relationship, AOA will speak out and act to ensure patients receive the care they deserve."
Also, the AOA is briefing doctors on the introduction of the Dental and Optometric Care Access Act (HR 3323), an AOA-backed bill targeting anti-patient and anti-competitive abuses of health and vision plans.
Known as the "DOC Access Act," HR 3323 is sponsored by Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Georgia) and includes:
- Banning forced discounts on noncovered services
- Banning the practice of forcing doctors to participate in a vision plan as a condition for participation in a medical plan
- Banning restrictions on a doctor's choice of lab
Read more about the DOC Access Act.
Contact your Senate and House members
All doctors and students can play a crucial role in supporting the AOA's ongoing advocacy work, fighting for what's best for patients and the profession. Make an effort to connect with your U.S. Senators and House members during Congress' recess to encourage or thank them for their support for patients and the profession.
Consider becoming an AOA Federal Keyperson to develop a close, personal connection with your elected representatives and help serve as optometry's conduit to our nation's leaders. Also consider becoming an AOA-PAC investor—one of the most effective ways to participate in the advocacy process.
Check aoa.org/advocacy for the latest updates, or the AOA Online Legislative Action Center for more information on these legislative priorities and how you can connect directly with your lawmakers to urge their support for AOA's top legislative priorities.
Congress’ Sept. 15 deadline for bill language passes with lawmakers backing key guardrails that AOA’s advocates say must be in place for a workable benefit. Yet, price tag developments may forestall efforts.
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.