Paraoptometric advocacy lifts optometry: Why staff involvement is critical

March 3, 2021
Paraoptometric attendance at the AOA’s premier advocacy conference, May 23-25, helps reinforce optometry’s case for immediate changes that will affect the entire practice.
Why staff involvement is critical

Paraoptometrics have a critical opportunity to take the next step from patient advocate to the profession’s advocate as the AOA lifts the immediate needs of optometry practices before the U.S. Congress.

Virtual AOA on Capitol Hill, May 23-25, is that opening for advocacy-minded paraoptometrics to distinguish themselves by taking part in the AOA’s single-largest annual advocacy event. This centerpiece of optometry’s federal efforts amplifies the profession’s collective voice around priority issues that affect practices nationwide. Given the enormous toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with a perennially disruptive threat to primary eye health care services, it is more important than ever that members of Congress hear the unique perspectives of the entire care team.

“As members of the optometric community, paraoptometrics can provide our own voice to multiply our efforts in advocating for not only optometry but also our patients,” says Linda Rodriguez, CPO, AOA Paraoptometric Resource Center Committee chair.

“The Virtual AOA on Capitol Hill event represents a great opportunity for paraoptometrics to understand their important role in advocacy on behalf of optometry. Doctors of optometry who encourage their paraoptometrics’ attendance in this event will find that their participation will facilitate commitment, dedication and engagement in their role to further and safeguard the profession and patients.”

Last year’s sudden pivot to a virtual format for AOA on Capitol Hill provided a valuable opening for paraoptometric attendance and helped boost record-breaking attendance at a critical time in the federal COVID-19 response. This year is no different as Congress once again weighs an aid package that can support pandemic-struggling practices, and advocates fight back against harmful policies and regulations that drive wedges in the valuable patient care delivered by optometry teams.

Paraoptometrics can speak directly to many of these priority issues, says Melanie Jenkins, CPO, AOA PRC Committee member. Returning for her second Virtual AOA on Capitol Hill, Jenkins emphasizes the gravity of these conversations with lawmakers.

“I want to be a part of something that makes an impact—to be the voice in Congress that makes our officials aware of our priorities in optometry,” Jenkins says. “We paraoptometrics have been asked to participate in this very important meeting and I want to encourage you to join us. Be a part of something that leaves a lasting impression.”

That lasting impression works both ways, too. While working on staff at Shore Family Eye Care in Manasquan, New Jersey, Marietta Richman attended several past AOA on Capitol Hill events, witnessing the direct impact and critical relationships that advocates have developed with their Members of Congress. Richman, herself, took these opportunities to get connected and get involved in the profession’s advocacy.

Specifically, Richman says meeting with legislators is a chance to reiterate how their optometry practice provides critical sight-preserving care, how the practice focuses on pediatric and special needs patients, as well as their emphasis on low vision and unique eye diseases.

“The politicians really like to hear this information from paraoptometrics and students as we are the future of the profession,” Richman says.

“Advocacy is an essential part of creating a healthier world and when we as health professionals have connections with politicians who can change policy to be more inclusive, it makes all the difference. I’m looking forward to AOA on Capitol Hill because I want to be a part of bringing awareness to eye care issues and creating a healthier world.”

Register members of your practice today to attend Virtual AOA on Capitol Hill.

Know before you go: AOA’s 3 priority issues for Virtual AOA on Capitol Hill

Because optometry’s advocates include paraoptometrics your attendance at Virtual AOA on Capitol Hill is valuable in providing key perspectives and insight into issues affecting optometric practices. Take a moment to learn more about the three priority issues that AOA doctors, paraoptometrics and students will champion on Capitol Hill. 

  1. Secure COVID-19 relief, aid opportunities for struggling optometry practices. Even now, Congress is considering a new $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue package that includes several familiar federal relief options that helped many optometry practices in the initial days of pandemic restrictions and limitations. Although the exact details of such legislation will change in the coming weeks, the AOA is focused on this important opportunity to help support struggling optometry practices.

    These measures include an extension of the Medicare sequester moratorium through the course of the public health emergency, as well as ensuring a continuation of aid options that helped keep many practices viable, including Paycheck Protection Program loans, Economic Injury Disaster Loans and more.

    Additionally, the AOA and advocates will continue to make an appeal for federal recognition of optometry’s ability to assist in the herculean COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
  2. Curb health, vision plan policies that unnecessarily restrict patient care. To push back against health and vision plans, advocates will emphasize the successful repeal of a federal insurer anti-trust exemption and encourage congressional support of AOA’s Dental and Optometric Care (DOC) Access Act.

    The DOC Access Act, led by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and with bipartisan congressional support, complements states’ vision plan laws by disallowing detrimental policies by ERISA and other federally regulated vision and health plans. Specifically, the legislation would prohibit plans’ limits on lab choice, and mandates on noncovered services and materials. Advocates hope to make Congress aware of how these vision and health plan policies unnecessarily hinder patients’ decision-making and disrupt the care provided by optometry teams.
  3. Fix a broken prescription verification process and stop efforts to deregulate contact lenses.
    The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) decision to amend Contact Lens Rule requirements on optometry practices in the middle of a pandemic was not only unfounded but also burdensome—and costly—on optometry practices. While Congress directed the FTC to delay enforcement of these actions until April 1, 2021, the fact remains that proponents of these changes are now advocating to diminish optometry teams’ role from patients’ contact lens regimen.

    In addition to fighting these efforts to deregulate the contact lens market, the AOA and advocates are championing legislation to fix the broken contact lens prescription verification process; namely, eliminating ‘robocall’ verifications. Optometry teams know how inadequate and unreliable these calls can be when confirming patient medical information, and such legislation would restore confidence that the care optometry teams provide is being followed.

These issues immediately affect optometry practices, their current viability and future prosperity, and require a unified voice on Capitol Hill to ensure the AOA’s success.

Paraoptometrics interested in participating should also attend an upcoming “advocacy bootcamp” webinar—details will be available in the coming weeks—to prepare for Virtual AOA on Capitol Hill. In the meantime, visit the AOA’s Action Center to see what issues require paraoptometrics’ immediate attention and to learn more about the issues. Consider texting “RELIEF” to 855.465.5124 to get involved in the AOA’s current COVID-19 relief efforts.

For additional questions about Virtual AOA on Capitol Hill, contact the AOA’s Advocacy Group at advocacy@aoa.org or call 800.365.2219. Note: Virtual meetings with members of Congress are pre-arranged and coordinated through state associations.

Virtual AOA on Capitol Hill, May 23-25

Participation is open to all advocacy-minded doctors, optometry students and paraoptometrics with sessions tailored to providing attendees the latest updates on priority federal issues and, in close coordination with state associations, the potential to participate in virtual meetings with U.S. senators and House members.


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