Affiliates, AOA share forward-thinking strategies for optometry’s advocates

October 26, 2023
AOA State Government Relations Center (SGRC) Regional Advocacy Meetings convened affiliate leaders and advocates from across the nation to collaborate and build formidable grassroots strategies for continued legislative success.
AOA SGRC Meeting Header

With playbooks opened, optometry’s advocates huddled together for the latest round of strategy sessions, aimed at pressing the profession’s statehouse momentum nationwide.

The AOA State Government Relations Center (SGRC) Regional Advocacy Meetings convened grassroots advocates, affiliate leaders and volunteers across three workshop-style events, August through October, designed to share firsthand accounts of the profession’s advocacy in states with recent legislative or regulatory battles. Achievements, challenges and new developments were shared in a 1½-day format that was equal parts advocacy primer and frontline intel for prepping states’ advocacy initiatives. It was a formula for success by all accounts if you asked attendees.

As Timothy Bonin, Rhode Island Optometric Association executive director, put it: the meeting was “intuitively” designed to foster conversations between veteran advocates and the upcoming generation of doctor leaders ready to take the baton and run.

“We learn from, and are inspired by, one another,” Bonin says. “Camaraderie in the room was strong, placing each attendee at ease while we tackled the dos and don’ts, the musts, of any successful advocacy together.”

Beyond the advocacy basics, these meetings also provided a deep dive into specific tactics and approaches, hard-learned in a year’s worth of legislative sessions since the last regional advocacy meetings in 2022. New issues included the emergence of physician “title bills” and vision plan legislation across the nation.

Additionally, the meeting format afforded states’ advocacy teams time to collaborate amongst themselves in legislative workshops and panel discussions facilitated by the AOA Board of Trustees, SGRC members and a number of guest panelists.

“The [SGRC] regional event was invaluable to understanding the experiences of other states and the role of the SGRC in assisting states with scope legislation and other issues,” notes Curtis Barry, a contract lobbyist for the New Hampshire Optometric Association for over two decades, and eastern meeting attendee. “The ability to ask questions and engage in discussion cannot be duplicated in PDFs or even remote meetings. I’m thankful to AOA for the opportunity, and I encourage state associations to send members involved in government relations or legislative efforts, and even their lobbyists.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Margaret Moore, O.D., Connecticut Association of Optometrists board member, who, as a 2018 optometry school graduate, says the meeting format proved formative for getting further involved in her state’s advocacy.

“After attending this engaging, informative meeting, I feel much more well-equipped as a board member of our state association to help lead our profession into the future,” Dr. Moore says. “I would encourage any other younger doctors of optometry to attend this meeting as well.”

The regional advocacy meetings are supported by Johnson & Johnson Vision, Lumenis, Sight Sciences, the Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety and Ocular Therapeutix.

AOA, affiliates partnering to advance and protect optometry

Nationwide, optometry’s advocates work to bolster their communities’ access to the full-scope, eye health and vision care services that doctors of optometry are trained, educated and certified to provide—and the AOA stands ready to help.

Launched in 2018, the AOA Future Practice Initiative is an operational partnership alongside affiliates that helps leverage advocacy strengths to challenge historic impediments to full-scope, optometric care. That close collaboration continues to not only produce meaningful scope advancements but also keep in check egregious, anti-competitive and anti-patient vision plan policies.

This past year, Illinois, Georgia, Texas and Nevada  secured legislation to fight back against vision plan abuses while New Hampshire secured vaccination authorization and a handful of states, most notably Florida, derailed physician titling efforts once gaining momentum. Following an historic and multi-year string of scope expansion victories, there are now 11 states in which optometrists are performing office-based laser procedures. These wins are bolstered by new literature supporting the safety and efficacy of these optometrist-performed procedures.

With the conclusion of the 2023 SGRC regional advocacy meetings, the AOA and affiliates stand ready to effectively and successfully advocate for the profession as future challenges and opportunities present themselves. Learn more about the state advocacy tools available to AOA members.

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