There was a certain irony to the fact that optometry's crucial state government and third party advocacy conference took place in the Big Easy.
"If you take away one thing from this weekend, it is that together … we will forge a stronger position for optometry and our patients."
"The tireless work you do to further the profession is anything but easy," AOA President Christopher J. Quinn, O.D., said before a packed gallery of optometry's advocates and leaders in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Nov. 3.
"It is our relentless pursuit to advance patient eye health and vision care and patients' access that makes us so unique. And it makes gatherings like this so important because we can only transform optometry and eye health care when we work as one."
Together, more than 200 doctors of optometry and state leadership mobilized Nov. 3-5 for the AOA's State Government Relations and Third Party Center 2017 National Conference, leveraging the knowledge base of AOA's full advocacy resources to better equip affiliates in responding to the challenges and opportunities currently facing the profession.
Intended to help grow, train and activate affiliates' advocates, the conference offered the latest resources and information for affiliates to overcome the state government and third party issues that members currently encounter in their respective states.
"There is a rapidly changing reality for doctors of optometry, created in part by advances in technology that interfere with the doctor-patient relationship," said AOA State Government Relations (SGR) Committee chair Deanna Alexander, O.D. "Optometry needs to be prepared to understand the changes in technology and how our state advocacy efforts can shape the future of our profession by recognizing state-by-state innovations and the added influence of insurers, organized medicine and large corporate retailers."
Future of health care
That rapidly changing reality is influenced greatly by the national conversation on health care, starting on Capitol Hill and among federal agencies, and setting the tone of conversation on down to the statehouse, too. Those were among the sentiments that Kim Ross, Kimble Public Affairs president and health policy consultant, shared for attendees during the meeting's general session.
Providing an overview of the current health care landscape, Ross noted a great deal of economic fragility, public confusion and disturbance in the health care market, brought on by a number of factors including the push for new regulations and federal programs, market and provider consolidation, the Affordable Care Act and efforts to repeal it.
"What we have, politically, is a zero-sum game," Ross said. "Everyone's out there chasing their own unique, provincial interests and they cancel each other out. So how do you set policy as a legislator at a state level, given the down economic pressures and the fact that whatever you do there's always going to be a well-heel position on the other side? At this point, everyone's playing a zero-sum game."
Such is the reality that affiliate and advocacy leaders deal with in each state, underscoring the necessity of the advocacy workshops and breakout sessions that followed throughout the weekend.
State, third party advocacy essentials
Created by doctors, for doctors, breakout sessions were led by SGRC and Third Party Center (TPC) committee members with an open-floor dialogue that promoted a best-practices forum. Sessions included:
- Vision and health plan contracting.
- State legislative issues.
- Value-based payer initiatives.
- Grassroots advocacy.
- Vision plans.
- Noncovered services and discrimination.
- Patient protection.
- Educating employers about eye care.
"Often states are much stronger in one area versus the other, and this program helps them to utilize those strengths to help build an all-around stronger advocacy program," said Steven Eiss, O.D., AOA TPC chair.
Attendees also enjoyed presentations from industry sponsors, including Alcon's Jeanmarie Davis, O.D., director of professional relations and practitioner partnerships, Jessica Sullivan, senior account manager, and Nancy Tuffin, head of health policy; Bausch + Lomb's Bill Reindel, O.D., executive director of medical affairs-vision care; Hoya Vision Care's Gregg Fowler, O.D., vice president of sales and marketing; Johnson & Johnson Vision Care's Carol Alexander, O.D., director of professional communications, and Millicent Knight, O.D., head of professional affairs; Shire's Joe Boyd, director of market development, and Mark Lenker, director of U.S. government relations and public policy; Compliancy Group's Marc Haskelson, president and CEO, and Vincent Milo; and AOAExcel ®.
Forging ahead, together
Challenging each state association to assess its current legislative priorities and strengths, Dr. Quinn called on attendees to identify opportunities where close coordination between AOA and the affiliate will precipitate advancing patient access and quality optometric care.
"If you take away one thing from this weekend, it is that together, with the AOA, with your state affiliates, with our valued partners, with the leaders here and at home, we will forge a stronger position for optometry and our patients," Dr. Quinn said.
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.