State Advocacy Summit amplifies lessons from year of historic scope victories

August 4, 2021
Advancing Optometry: State Advocacy Summit 2021, Aug. 30-31, is a virtual opportunity for state advocacy volunteers and leaders, and optometry’s advocates, to collaborate on best practices.
State Advocacy Summit

As the profession reaps a historic year of scope victories, optometry’s advocates sow seeds for continued legislative successes with a collaborative, virtual summit on state advocacy.

Advancing Optometry: State Advocacy Summit 2021, Aug. 30-31, convenes the profession’s leaders and volunteers in an open and honest discussion, led by frontline statehouse advocates, intended to provide critical insights and best practices for both seasoned and burgeoning state advocacy teams. Leveraging the knowledgebase of affiliates and the AOA’s full advocacy resources, the State Advocacy Summit will better equip affiliates in responding to the challenges and opportunities currently facing the profession.

“State advocacy meetings, such as this, allow members to understand the current legislative tools to help their state improve access to care from highly qualified doctors of optometry,” says Chris Wolfe, O.D., AOA State Government Relations Committee (SGRC) chair. “Understanding these resources will help doctors of optometry enhance their legislative relationships and articulate the nuances of common, specific legislation.”

Hosted by the AOA’s SGRC, the State Advocacy Summit is a two-evening, virtual opportunity for advocacy teams to share and address effective statehouse strategies, learn from one another about building critical grassroots networks and build upon hard-learned lessons for advancing our profession. Advocates will hear best practices and learn how to conduct a concerted, thorough advocacy campaign during virtual sessions on topics including: 

  • Capital investments.
  • Determining and building legislative relationships.
  • How to counter opposition arguments.
  • Mock testimony training and the basics of effective messaging.

The AOA is dedicated to ensuring not only that doctors of optometry can practice to the highest level of medical eye care but also that patients can access that primary eye health care in their communities. To enhance access, the AOA continues to take assertive steps to support states as they advocate for doctors’ ability to practice to the fullest extent of their education and training.

“We must continue to advocate for our patients by providing excellent care and by helping regulators and legislators understand the nature of the current knowledge, education and training of doctors of optometry, so those patients have access to the services we provide,” Dr. Wolfe says. “If we do not frame this appropriately, government entities will not understand what we do and why it is important for the health, safety and wellbeing of the residents of each state.”

2021—a historic year for state advocacy

At a time when patients are facing a potential lack of access to primary care, optometry is uniquely positioned to provide a high level of primary eye and vision care for the vast majority of Americans. Such sheer accessibility is why the AOA and affiliates launched a concerted effort, called the AOA Future Practice Initiative, in 2018 to create close operational partnerships with state affiliates and to eliminate outdated barriers, so as to better realize contemporary optometric practice. The FPI program established not only a centralized hub to quickly mobilize against opponents’ misinformation campaigns but also foster critical relationships with state associations nationwide in a concerted effort to grow a more effective grassroots advocacy program. Already, that initiative is bearing fruit.

In addition to a rigorous, highly publicized fight in Arkansas to protect contemporary optometric procedures, spanning several years, four states in 2021 have solidified significant scope of practice enhancements, including Texas, Wyoming, Mississippi and Massachusetts. So, too, numerous other states have passed critical legislation on issues ranging from vision plan and patient protection laws to COVID-19 vaccination authority.

Ryan Wally, O.D., AOA SGRC member and Mississippi Optometric Association legislative chair, notes that these advocacy campaigns don’t simply happen overnight—successful legislative campaigns are all about preparation. Mississippi’s own scope expansion for contemporary optometric procedures was nothing short of a prize fight that took years of grassroots advocacy.

“The process is far more like a marathon than a sprint,” Dr. Wally says. “Attending previous advocacy meetings allowed us to craft our plan far ahead of time, so by the time our bill was dropped about 95% of the work had already been done. Meetings, such as the State Advocacy Summit, address every important detail to these kinds of campaigns, from raising PAC funds and developing grassroots efforts to working with lobbyists and crafting bill language.”

The benefit of attending the State Advocacy Summit is that advocates don’t have to “reinvent the wheel,” Dr. Wally says. While the opposition’s playbook hasn’t changed, they’re delivery has improved, and that’s why the ability to quickly mobilize advocacy resources is so vital.

“Hearing from other states who have been through tough scope battles helped us (in Mississippi) better prepare our own strategy, improve our grassroots and craft our legislative message,” he says. “Many of the ideas and strategies we used in our scope campaign were taken from past advocacy meetings just like this one.”

Access AOA’s state advocacy resources

Nationwide, optometry’s advocates continue their critical work to bolster patient access by ensuring states recognize the full scope of care that doctors of optometry are educated and trained to provide—and the AOA stands ready to assist.

To help prepare states’ scope expansion efforts, the AOA offers a members-only resource to address many questions about the expansion and legislative process, including tools that help advocates navigate the current political landscape and how to engage with key stakeholders. The SGRC also offers comprehensive trainings and guidance to state affiliates, building upon the lessons learned through every legislative effort across the country.

Contact the AOA’s State Government Relations Center staff, Daniel Carey or Dana Reason, for more information about the State Advocacy Summit and request an individualized meeting for state-specific advocacy resources.

Advancing Optometry: AOA State Advocacy Summit 2021

This collaborative, virtual forum is where optometry’s advocates and volunteers can hear the latest, most successful techniques for effective grassroots and state advocacy.
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