Regional Advocacy Meetings strengthen states’ advocacy, collaboration

May 12, 2022
The four regional advocacy meetings across the U.S. this summer and fall look to build upon the profession’s historic statehouse momentum in recent years. Learn how you can get involved.
AOA State Government Relations Center (SGRC)

A slate of new, regional advocacy meetings aims to coordinate optometry’s advocates for continued statehouse successes as the profession leans into a string of historic scope victories.

Launching this summer and fall, the AOA State Government Relations Center (SGRC) Regional Advocacy Meetings convene affiliates’ grassroots advocates, leadership and volunteers in four regionally located events to collaborate and hone states’ advocacy strategies with firsthand input from seasoned statehouse veterans. Leveraging hard-earned knowledge gained from recent state battles, regional advocacy meetings will equip affiliates and volunteers with the latest information to identify areas of growth, opportunities and challenges.

“2021 was momentous for our profession with two states gaining laser privileges after hard-fought advocacy efforts—and so far in 2022, we have seen two more states coming right along behind,” says Johndra McNeely, O.D., AOA SGRC chair, nodding to Virginia’s recent scope expansion and a legislative effort in its final stage in Colorado.

“We could have 10 states performing optometric laser procedures very soon, so we must feed off this momentum and keep pushing forward.”

Led by AOA SGRC committee members and staff, these two-day meetings—supported by Johnson & Johnson Vision, Janssen and the Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety—provide in-person opportunities for advocacy teams to collaborate and address effective strategies, as well as learn from one another about building critical grassroots networks. A range of topics will be covered, including:

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

Dr. McNeely adds that the decision to host four regional meetings across the U.S. was intentional not only from a travel standpoint, but also as neighboring states often contend with similar advocacy issues and opposition.

“Neighboring states tend to ‘speak the same language,’” Dr. McNeely says. “It’s helpful for regional groups to connect and sit down with the peers they know and trust. We know a lot of states are gearing up for advocacy initiatives, and we want to provide new information ahead of the 2023 legislative session.”

In addition to a highly publicized fight in Arkansas to protect contemporary optometric procedures, spanning the past several years, multiple states achieved significant scope enhancements in 2021, including Wyoming and Mississippi that authorized certain laser procedures. At the same time, numerous other states passed critical legislation on issues ranging from vision plan and patient protection laws to vaccination authority.

Coming off these achievements in 2022, Virginia became the ninth state to authorize certified doctors of optometry for YAG laser capsulotomy, selective laser trabeculoplasty and laser peripheral iridotomy, after a years-long effort to rebuild its grassroots advocacy. So, too, other states actively seek scope enhancements in this current legislative session with additional state advocacy battles poised into the future.

Jeffrey Michaels, O.D., Virginia Optometric Association (VOA) co-chair and AOA SGRC member, attributes the overwhelming support of his state’s scope legislation to the methodical and collaborative way VOA approached the bill. Learning from lessons—good and bad—in other states, advocates “fine-tuned” their strategic plan.

“We are sharing that plan for these regional advocacy meetings—regardless which of the regional meetings you attend,” Dr. Michaels says. “This is a great opportunity to hear directly from colleagues who have passed significant legislation.

“Whether it’s Oklahoma or Virginia, the lessons our states have learned over time can have a direct impact to shorten the learning curve for any new state going for scope.”

AOA, affiliates committed to advancing 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 contemporary optometric care. That close collaboration continues to produce significant legislative wins for optometry.

What’s more, the AOA’s Third Party Center and affiliates’ payer advocates continue working on doctors’ behalf to defend such scope advancements, helping ensure patients can freely access the broadening care delivered by optometry and without unnecessary barriers imposed by plans.

“Any successful legislative effort, especially those at the state level, begins with an impassioned group of people, committing to seeing an effort through to the end,” noted AOA President Robert C. Layman, O.D., during the Advancing Optometry: AOA State Advocacy Summit in August 2021. The virtual summit brought together statehouse advocates from across the nation to prepare affiliates for 2022 legislative sessions.

“This tireless dedication takes time and perseverance, something I am so proud to say was exemplified in states across the country [in 2021], when for the first time in the history of our profession, we saw multiple states enact contemporary optometric legislation.”

Register for your SGRC Regional Advocacy Meeting

These collaborative, regional meetings offer optometry’s statehouse advocates and volunteers the latest, most successful techniques for effective grassroots and state advocacy. Reserve your advocacy team’s seats at these impactful meetings.

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