Harkin law helps ODs gain coverage in Georgia
A local union in Georgia has reversed its policy of nonpayment to optometrists for medical services. AOA leaders say this victory comes thanks to a law the AOA has fought to enact and protect: the Harkin nondiscrimination provision.
"This will give better access and more comprehensive options for eye care patients."
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1996 represents workers in Georgia, including the employees of Kroger, a supermarket retail chain. Previously, the union's health plan had prohibited ODs from providing medical eye care to covered union members and their families.
However, the union's insurance office recently said it would change its policy to cover ODs for medical services while continuing to provide vision care for its members. It also agreed to pay ODs retroactively for any medical care claims dating back to May 1.
Harkin law led to change in policy
According to the AOA, the Harkin law provision is what drove this reversal in policy.
This win is "a real, live example of why the Harkin Amendment is so important and why the AOA continues to protect it," says AOA Trustee Gregory A. Caldwell, O.D.
It also illustrates how the AOA and Georgia Optometric Association (GOA) worked together "using everyone's best talents and getting a positive outcome for our patients, optometry and the communities," Dr. Caldwell says. In talking with union officials, AOA and GOA Third Party Center representatives focused the discussions on the benefits of including optometry as a medical service, especially in rural areas where many of the Kroger employees reside and work.
GOA spokesman Bryan Markowitz says the association was "thankful and excited" to hear of the change in policy. "This will give better access and more comprehensive options for those eye care patients and provide optometrists with the opportunity to now see these patients for medical eye care," Markowitz says.
The policy change specifically means less duplication of services and reduced health care costs—one of the key goals of health care reform, Dr. Caldwell says.
The AOA's Third Party Center is working to get health plans in other states to change any policies that discriminate against ODs.