3 Reasons to attend AOA on Capitol Hill

AOA members head for the Hill

Direct, face-to-face advocacy is the cornerstone of optometry's federal success and why AOA on Capitol Hill is so crucial for maintaining the profession's voice in important health care policy decisions.

The single-largest annual advocacy event and a centerpiece of the profession's national lobbying efforts, AOA on Capitol Hill, April 7-9, in Washington, D.C., is about maximizing person-to-person contact with elected federal representatives, as well as discussing the challenges and opportunities facing the profession. The tremendous growth of AOA on Capitol Hill-from fewer than 200 doctors attending a decade ago to more than 600 doctors and students last year-is a key reason why AOA was recognized as one of the most effective, respected lobbying groups in the nation's capital.

Participation is open to all advocacy-minded doctors and students with sessions tailored around providing attendees time, in close coordination with their state associations, to pre-arrange and participate in meetings with U.S. Senators and House members.

Registration is now open for AOA on Capitol Hill. Contact your state association and see how you can help prepare for your visit to Washington, D.C., and your state's meetings. Also, take this opportunity to brush up on AOA's federal priority issues that will be addressed at AOA on Capitol Hill.

1. Stop the FTC's unnecessary, burdensome contact lens paperwork proposal

Contact lens safety and strict, fair marketplace enforcement are top priorities for AOA and optometry's advocates, especially throughout the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC's) protracted regulatory review of the Contact Lens Rule. That proposal-a paperwork mandate that AOA argues is both unfounded and overly burdensome on prescribers-created an advocacy swell among doctors of optometry and students that continues to ripple in Congress.

Since the FTC first unveiled its proposal, AOA and optometry's advocates determinedly educated lawmakers about how the mandate could impose annual compliance costs in excess of $18,000 per doctor, per year without doing anything to crack down on the very real threat of illegal contact lens sales. This advocacy came to fruition not only with an FTC-sponsored public workshop for doctors to set the record straight on health and safety concerns, but also with more than 100 senators and House members, as well as congressional committees, weighing in with a bipartisan message of support for better enforcement and retooling of the FTC proposal. Such relentless pressure from legislators and optometry's advocates seems to have driven results.

Despite Congress' and advocates' impact on the FTC proposal, more congressional voices are needed, now and into the future, to ensure patient health and safety remains paramount. That's why AOA continues to speak out against illegal contact lens sales and vendors, especially as doctors and students take The Hill this April.

2. Fight back against anti-patient, anti-doctor vision plan abuses

The AOA's outsized impact on the 2017-18 Congressional Midterm Elections means the foundation is set to advance optometry's pro-access, pro-patient priorities in this new 116th Congress. Now, AOA on Capitol Hill is the cornerstone that ensures members of Congress understand and are encouraged to support optometry's priority issues.

In the 115th Congress, the Dental and Optometric Care (DOC) Access Act reached an important milestone with 105 bipartisan co-sponsors. The legislation that targets abusive health and vision plan policies, such as non-covered services and materials mandates and limits to lab choice, is now being reintroduced in the 116th Congress. But, even more support will be needed to make this bill a priority for the new Congress.  

Jointly supported by the American Dental Association, the DOC Access Act still faces stiff opposition from vision plans as they fight back in an attempt to paint doctors as selfish and greedy. After revised language, the DOC Access Act will focus squarely on those vision plan practices which most harm patients and doctors' practices. AOA doctors and students will be working hard to build support for this priority legislation.

3. Help make the contact lens prescription verification process simpler, safer

Determinedly, AOA continues to fight the FTC's unnecessary contact lens paperwork proposal while also increasingly going on offense against illegal contact lens sales. As such, AOA's regulatory advocacy continues to spotlight companies violating federal law, including AOA's wholly successful 31 in 31 campaign. While the FTC has certainly taken notice of these efforts, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are increasingly supportive of a federal crackdown on violating contact lens sellers.

Responding to this growing support, the AOA and its Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety (APS) partners-Johnson & Johnson Vision, VSP, CooperVision and Sightbox - will be backing new legislation that responds to lawmakers' call for greater efforts aimed at curbing illegal contact lens sales. The partners will be supporting new legislation which aims to make the verification process simpler and safer by disallowing automated "robocalls" for the verification of contact lens prescriptions.

A 2016 consumer survey highlighted the scale of the problem-roughly one-in-three consumers were able to purchase lenses using an already expired prescription while one-in-four reported receiving different devices than those prescribed by their eye doctor. To this day, sellers continue to advertise "no prescription needed" and "skip the trip to the eye doctor." Even among those retailers who have been warned by FTC for possible violations, many are still able flaunting the law without consequence. AOA doctors will be fighting hard to build new support for a federal crackdown.

Support essential vision, eye health care for veterans

The AOA, Armed Forces Optometric Society (AFOS) and state affiliates continue to fight for better care for America's veterans. Among these issues is the VA's rollout of an experimental program, known as Technology-based Eye Care Services (TECS), which would subvert the standard of care for some veterans. Long has AOA spoken out against the program, and other national Veteran Service Organizations (VSO) have lent their voices, too.

Last year's AOA on Capitol Hill featured a listening session on veterans care with organizations ranging from AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America and Disabled American Veterans, speaking out against substandard care when eye doctors are ready, willing and accessible to provide the care that veterans need. In fact, AMVETS publicly decried these attempts to bridle optometry's scope legislation and VA optometry care this past February.

Make Health Insurance More Affordable Through Improved Competition

The AOA and its American Dental Association partners are backing U.S. House and Senate legislation that would amend the McCarran-Ferguson Act to authorize the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Justice Department (DOJ) to enforce federal antitrust laws against health insurance companies. The bill, called the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act (HR 1418 and S. 350), aims to help lower the cost of health insurance coverage for Americans by eliminating the antitrust exemption that the health insurance industry currently has under the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945.

Lack of competition can allow health insurers to overcharge or otherwise take advantage of providers and their patients, whose only recourse is to file a complaint with their state's insurance commissioner. Passage of such a bill into law would authorize federal antitrust enforcement in instances where state regulators fail to act.

5. Listening session on the appropriate use of telehealth

Preserving the doctor-patient relationship is important for meaningful patient care, which is why the AOA continues to argue its stance regarding the appropriate use of telehealth services as a supplement to high-value, high-quality eye and vision care. Such is the case not only in the VA's TECS eye exam replacement pilot program but also app-based services that when telehealth supplants timely, routine care afforded by comprehensive eye exams, patients receive a lower standard of care. Moreover, telehealth may miss diagnoses otherwise easily detected and treated through an in-person visit with their doctor of optometry.

These are just some of the points AOA emphasized in a complaint filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration against the online vision test app, Visibly (formerly known as Opternative). The FDA agreed with AOA's complaint that Opternative marketed its app-based vision test without clearance or approval required by the government, in violation of federal law.

The AOA fully supports the use of new technologies that increase access and improve patient health outcomes, yet patients must continue to receive the standard of care and their health shouldn't be compromised by improper use of telehealth technologies.

For telehealth's promise, it can pose serious drawbacks when used inappropriately. Only a preventive and primary eye health and vision care intervention can diagnose and ensure treatment for the complete range of vision and eye health issues.

This year's AOA on Capitol Hill features a health care policy listening session on telehealth's recent application and future. Hosted by APS, the listening session will feature a panel discussion with APS partners. The APS, itself, reinforces three guiding principles for the application of telehealth, including:

  • Keeping the doctor-patient relationship at the center of telehealth services
  • Telehealth should be a tool that complements an existing doctor-patient relationship
  • Telehealth should prioritize health and safety throughout innovation to meet patient needs

Contact your state association to see how you can help prepare for your visit to Washington, D.C., and your state's meetings.

To learn more about optometry's priority issues and how you can help both during AOA on Capitol Hill and to keep up the momentum afterward, visit AOA's newly redesigned Online Legislative Action Center.

March 14, 2019

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