Conference delivers vital advocacy tools, knowledge
State Legislative and Third Party National Conference presenters Stephen Montaquila, O.D., chair of the AOA Third Party Center Executive Committee, and Deanna Alexander, O.D., chair of the AOA's State Government Relations Committee.
A combined passion and willingness to go to the mat for the profession make optometry's advocates a formidable force—one further emboldened by AOA's advocacy brain trust during the 2015 AOA State Legislative and Third Party National Conference.
Held October 23-25 in Denver, Colorado, the conference brought together more than 230 doctors of optometry and state leadership to mobilize the full advocacy resources of the AOA in responding to the challenges and opportunities facing optometry.
"Our purpose here is advocacy—to defend, uphold and expand scope of practice and parity," said Stephen Montaquila, O.D., AOA Third Party Center chair. "I doubt in 1970 when somebody first thought scope expansion was a good idea that they were thinking along these lines, but we know, based on history, that this is it, this is our purpose."
He added, "But why? To ensure patients' access to all services that doctors of optometry are trained, educated and licensed to perform. Put your patients first and you'll always win, that's really the essence of our why."
Hosted by AOA State Government Relations Committee (SGRC) chair Deanna Alexander, O.D., and Dr. Montaquila, the conference addressed the new market realities for doctors of optometry created by the Affordable Care Act, as well as new challenges posed by insurers, organized medicine, emergent technology, new legislation and online retailers. Dr. Alexander said the conference was all about equipping volunteers and leadership with the right tools to "pay it forward" and continue a long line of state and third party victories.
"This conference offers tools that you can take back to your states and your membership, so that you can advocate for your scope of practice or parity," Dr. Alexander told attendees.
Essential advocacy information
Created by doctors, for doctors, breakout sessions were led by SGRC and TPC members with open-floor dialogue that fostered a best-practices forum among members.
For instance, a session on vision plan advocacy highlighted the successes of Texas and Kansas—in particular—in passing state legislation that curbs anti-competitive vision care plan practices, such as noncovered services, or restrictive and mandatory paneling.
"These bills are doable, but you have to do your homework," said Gary Robbins, Kansas Optometric Association executive director and SGRC member. "You have to have your grassroots ready."
In a session devoted to emergent online vision tests and unproven technology, Christopher Wolfe, O.D., SGRC member, walked members through an overview of these contemporary threats to the profession, including a review of AOA model language. Dr. Wolfe detailed his own personal experience with one such online vision test, Opternative, and how the company's reliance on subjective patient information—reviewed remotely by a group of ophthalmologists—could ultimately harm patients, or cost them more time and money in the long run.
Dr. Wolfe equated subjective online vision tests to drug-store kiosks with blood pressure cuffs, when an on-the-run, stressed consumer might find their blood pressure higher than normal.
"Well nobody in their right mind would expect hydrochlorothiazide to pop out of that machine, but that's exactly what happens in this case with online vision tests," Dr. Wolfe said.
"We know there are a lot of factors that can increase or change blood pressure, and the same thing happens here."
Attendees also enjoyed a special luncheon, sponsored by HOYA Vision Care, with a presentation from Gregg Fowler, vice president of sales and marketing at HOYA Vision Care U.S.
On the final day, conference attendees received an update from Tom Daly, Esq., on the national provider nondiscrimination law and the proposed Dental and Optometric Care Access Act (DOC Access Act), H.R. 3323. Daly stressed that the DOC Access Act is designed to supplement the vision plan legislation that states have enacted and continue to push for by providing a federal law that would curb ERISA plans from the same practices.
Charged to 'light that fire'
Chris Wroten, O.D., reflected a takeaway for the conference when reciting a famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi: "A small body of determined spirits, fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission, can alter the course of history."
Dr. Wroten: "Go home and light that fire, and get some other determined spirits with us."
Mirroring some of the AOA’s longstanding agitation over vision plans’ abuses, the Sept. 26 lawsuit by Total Vision LLC (and Total Vision, P.C.) alleges unfair competition, monopolization, tying and intentional interference with prospective business relations. Total Vision LLC supports 59 independent practices in California.
The AOA and affiliates in Illinois and Georgia score wins against vision plan abuses in a year in which doctors of optometry are making inroads across the country. When all else failed, including talks with the plans and appeals to one state’s insurance commissioner, affiliates did the hard work of helping push through bills in their legislatures that address the abuses.