Massachusetts seeks glaucoma care expansion

November 7, 2017
Bill would expand patients’ access to glaucoma care.

Massachusetts' glaucoma patients would receive expanded access to the quality, sight-preserving care afforded by their doctor of optometry with new legislation before the statehouse.

"Bay State eye patients deserve the same standard of care that is offered everywhere else in the United States."

Introduced by Rep. Bradley H. Jones Jr. (R-20th Dist. Middlesex), H. 2463, "an act relative to the treatment of glaucoma and other eye-related disorders," would be a windfall for patient care, choice and access in the last remaining state where doctors' of optometry legal scope of practice falls short of glaucoma care.

"Passage of H. 2463 would be a tremendous win for the citizens of Massachusetts," says Samuel D. Pierce, O.D., AOA president-elect. "Doctors of optometry in Massachusetts will be able to offer even greater care for their patients, alleviating the burden of unnecessary multiple physician visits and excessive travel costs."

Such legislation would grant licensed doctors of optometry the authority to treat glaucoma and other ocular abnormalities on and around the eye, as well as prescribe necessary medications to carry out said treatment. The bill stops short of permitting certain injections or other procedures, and would require doctors of optometry to complete an educational program administered by the Massachusetts Society of Optometrists (MSO) or an accredited college of optometry, or otherwise meet board requirements.

Despite opposition groups' shaky claims to the contrary, accredited schools and colleges of optometry have taught glaucoma care and detection for years, including both optometry schools in Massachusetts. Moreover, doctors of optometry have successfully, and skillfully, diagnosed and provided glaucoma care for several decades.

"Doctors of optometry are highly skilled, educated medical professionals who effectively provide glaucoma care and administer eye-related oral medications routinely elsewhere in this country," says Matthew Forgues, O.D., Massachusetts Society of Optometrists president. "This narrowly focused bill ensures patients have greater access to timely care, while reducing costs for health care consumers and insurers. Bay State eye patients deserve the same standard of care that is offered everywhere else in the United States."

It's estimated that more than 3 million Americans have glaucoma, yet only half are diagnosed given the lack of symptoms. Commonly called the sneak thief of sight, glaucoma is treatable through early detection and intervention; however, once glaucoma compromises vision, it cannot be restored. That's why regular, comprehensive eye examinations are so important to healthy vision, and particularly instrumental in countering ocular disease development.

FTC, DOJ comment on Massachusetts' glaucoma care

Such legislative efforts to expand optometry's scope of practice in Massachusetts have met substantial resistance in the past. In fact, one previous attempt prompted a Massachusetts representative to petition the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Office of Policy Planning, Bureau of Competition and Bureau of Economics, as well as the Department of Justice's (DOJ's) Antitrust Division, for comment on the possible competitive impact of the legislation.

The federal agencies released a joint response in February 2016 that noted how doctors of optometry "serve as a first line of defense" to "facilitate earlier diagnosis and less costly treatment of glaucoma." It continued:

"Under current law, however, Massachusetts prohibits optometrists from treating glaucoma. Unwarranted restrictions may be reducing patient access, raising costs and foreclosing opportunities for early treatment. For these reasons, we encourage the legislature to consider whether patient welfare can be appropriately served by loosening this restriction."

Click here (member login required) to read more about state advocacy in the July/August 2017 edition of AOA Focus.

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