Regional Advocacy Meetings prime states’ advocates for 2023 battles and beyond

December 14, 2022
The four regionally based meetings brought together seasoned statehouse veterans and advocates to build on optometry’s historic advances and collaborate on continued success.
Regional Advocacy Meetings prime states’ advocates for 2023 battles and beyond

Coming off back-to-back momentous years for scope expansion, optometry’s statehouse advocates assembled in a new format to strategize for the profession’s future.

This past summer and fall, the AOA State Government Relations Center (SGRC) Regional Advocacy Meetings convened grassroots advocates, leadership and volunteers from nearly every state affiliate across four regionally dispersed events to collaborate and hone states’ strategies with firsthand input from seasoned veterans. Leveraging hard-earned knowledge gained from the profession’s historic statehouse momentum, seeing multiple states gain significant scope expansions in recent years, the regional advocacy meetings delivered equal parts advocacy fundamentals and frontline intel for preparing states’ advocacy pushes.

Johndra McNeely, O.D., AOA State Government Relations Committee chair, noted the regional advocacy meetings proved an unequivocal success among attendees, delivering a wealth of first-hand knowledge in an interactive format.

"These meetings delved deeper into what it takes to advance scope of practice," Dr. McNeely says. "Our goal was to help advocates feel well-prepared in the run up to their own advocacy initiatives, and to promote a collaborative setting to share these best practices."

With meetings in Salt Lake City, Utah; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Nashville, Tennessee; and Portland, Maine, these events promoted a synergistic environment where neighboring states could directly connect on similar challenges or strategies.

“Having neighboring states there and states that recently had legislative wins helped us hear specifically what challenges they faced, what talking points worked with legislators and how they overcame opposition arguments to gain their increased scope,” notes Beth Coleman-Jensen, Minnesota Optometric Association executive director.

“All of these items helped states in attendance not have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ and to make the best use of our time and resources in our own scope battle,” she adds. “Our doctors in attendance felt it was one of the most beneficial AOA meetings they’ve attended.”

The regional nature of the meetings was intentional not only from a logistical standpoint for optometry’s advocates, but also as neighboring states often contend with similar advocacy issues and opposition. The end result was an event focused on hyper-local issues and enhanced collaboration, something absolutely “critical” when it comes to planning for our profession’s legislative challenges, noted Wayne Zahka, O.D., Massachusetts Society of Optometrists executive director.

“Finding out what has or hasn’t worked from neighboring states’ experiences helps to shape the implementation of a successful approach, and we in Massachusetts look forward to this opportunity to partner for our profession’s future,” Dr. Zahka said prior to the Portland meeting.

Supported by Johnson & Johnson Vision, Janssen, Lumenis and the Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety, these two-day meetings provided in-person opportunities for states’ advocacy teams to collaborate and address effective strategies, as well as learn from one another about building critical grassroots networks. With panel discussions facilitated by AOA SGRC committee members and staff, affiliate’s advocacy representatives and other guest speakers, the sessions featured a range of topics, including:

  • What it takes to pass (or defeat) a bill
  • How to effectively counter opposition at your state legislature
  • Setting realistic timelines
  • Capital investments

“The SGRC meetings have been a great forum to share best practices and develop new ideas with other states,” says Michael Sirott, O.D., Optometric Physicians of Washington president. “The breakout sessions and hallway discussions were just as valuable as the formal presentations—keep up the good work!”

And that’s precisely what the AOA intends to do. As states look to begin their 2023 legislative calendars in only a few weeks’ time, lessons learned from these regional advocacy meetings will be put to use in looming advocacy battles. Then, optometry’s advocates intend to reconvene another round of regional advocacy meetings later in 2023 to keep these valuable conversations going and evolving.

AOA, affiliates partnering to advance optometry

Optometry’s advocates are determined to bolster communities’ access to the full-scope, primary eye health and vision care services that doctors of optometry, nationwide, are educated and capable of providing—and the AOA stands ready to assist.

Launched in 2018, the AOA Future Practice Initiative is an operational partnership alongside affiliates that helps leverage advocacy strengths and challenges historic impediments to optometric care. That close collaboration continues to produce significant legislative wins for optometry, including a string of notable scope advancements.

In 2022, both Virginia and Colorado validated optometry’s scope of practice expansion to authorize in-office laser procedures, including YAG laser capsulotomy, selective laser trabeculoplasty and laser peripheral iridotomy. The scope advancements come a year after Wyoming and Mississippi authorized such procedures, representing the first time in the profession’s history that two states successfully expanded their scope to include in-office laser procedures. But a myriad other states also achieved significant advancements that validated the primary eye health care role fulfilled by doctors of optometry, including Texas, Massachusetts, New York and California.

At the same time, the AOA’s Third Party Center and affiliates’ payer advocates worked on doctors’ behalf to defend scope advancements, helping ensure patients can freely access the broadening care delivered by optometry. This advocacy continues as part of the AOA’s practice success initiative, manifesting recently as an #AskAOA webinar on payer clawbacks and denials available within the AOA’s EyeLearn Professional Development Hub.

Access AOA’s state advocacy resources

To help prepare states’ scope advancement efforts, the AOA offers members-only resources to address countless questions about expansion and the legislative process, including tools that help advocates navigate the current political landscape and how to engage key stakeholders. The AOA’s SGRC offers comprehensive training and guidance to state affiliates, building upon the lessons learned through every legislative effort nationwide.

Contact the AOA’s SGRC staff to request individualized meetings for state-specific advocacy resources.

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