VSP warned on campus misinformation, efforts to divide the profession

June 13, 2024
Optometry schools and students to be alerted to possible new attacks and false information on optometry’s advocacy priorities.
Misinformation letters spelled out on wooden table

Reports of a high-ranking VSP executive’s bashing of the AOA and affiliates prompted an immediate response by the AOA legal team, which characterized the incident as an effort to try and divide the profession at a critical time and derail state and federal policy advocacy initiatives focused on delivering relief to doctors from vision plan abuses. 

In a warning letter issued on May 15 from the AOA’s top attorney, VSP, a dominant vision benefit manager (VBM) under fire in courts, state legislatures and in Washington, D.C., for tactics that the AOA has characterized as anti-doctor and anti-patient, was directed to review and publicly correct a misleading and divisive presentation delivered to Northeastern State University Oklahoma College of Optometry (NSUOCO) students. The timing coincided with consideration in the state capital of legislation backed by the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians (OAOP) aimed at outlawing abusive policies imposed by vision plans. Days later, thanks to the efforts of the OAOP doctors and students, the measure—which was opposed at each step of the process by the vision plan industry—was approved by the legislature and becomes law immediately due to an emergency clause. 

VSP social media posts place the company executive at several other schools in recent months, possibly indicating a broader campaign seeking to mislead —a key concern behind the AOA’s rapid response and insistence on immediate corrective action. 

“It appears that the intent of the statements was to instigate division and discord within a united profession and to cause harm to the standing and reputation of the AOA, due to its efforts in the policy arena in support of full valuation of essential optometric care and reimbursement and coverage fairness for doctors of optometry,” the AOA letter states. 

According to complaints received by school officials, the OAOP, and the AOA, the VSP presentation at NSUOCO repeatedly misrepresented the work of AOA and state optometric associations and efforts in support of new laws and expanded oversight focused on vision plan policies. The AOA warning letter notes that the presentation occurred at a time of significant policy differences between the AOA and VSP at both a federal and state level. 

In addition to VSP’s multi-million dollar lobbying and legal efforts against optometry, the AOA argues that the VSP executive’s presentation “raises the specter of a further and even more insidious effort to publicly target, demonize and attempt to punish those with whom the company disagrees.” 

The AOA demanded that VSP confirm an internal review and the steps taken to correct the executive’s misleading comments, noting that such action would be “a welcome change in course and, hopefully, the beginning of a process through which the company will begin to accept responsibility for the decision making that has left it so isolated from the concerns of patients and doctors, and led to its expanding dependence on armies of anti-optometry spokespersons, lobbyists and trial attorneys.” 

On June 6, VSP replied with a denial. According to the company’s deputy general counsel: “VSP has found itself in the unfortunate position of needing to exercise its First Amendment free speech rights to counteract the relentless rhetoric from the AOA.” 

Says AOA President Steven T. Reed, O.D.: “Our profession will not be misled or divided by any special interest group, especially one that is fighting against our patients and our practices every day in the courts, in our state capitals and on Capitol Hill.” 

Joel Robison, OAOP CEO, acknowledged affiliate leaders were “appalled but not surprised” by the VSP executive’s remarks shared at NSUOCO.  

“I applaud NSUOCO students for calling out the falsehoods VSP was attempting to peddle at the school,” Robison says. “We appreciate the AOA’s quick action to involve the state association and the faculty to intervene and end VSP’s presence on campus.” 

The AOA Board of Trustees and state leaders consistently join forces to educate and inform this next generation of doctors about the profession and the hard-won, essential and expanding role that optometry plays in health care.  

In 2023, more than 2,000 optometry students attended a combined Optometry’s Meeting®, AOA+ and AOA on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where they learned of the profession’s advocacy priorities, including the Dental and Optometric Care (DOC) Access Act and state legislation addressing VBM abuses being formulated in Nevada, Illinois and Texas. 

Advocates hear special policy briefing on VBMs at AOA on Capitol Hill 2024  

Optometry’s advocates building momentum for VBM reforms  

Notably, the VSP executive’s comments come at a time when VBMs broadly, and VSP specifically, are under intensive scrutiny by policymakers and regulators. In addition to growing Congressional support for the DOC Access Act, the AOA and affiliates have amassed considerable momentum against anti-patient, anti-doctor VBM practices, including: 

Tens of millions of Americans rely on their local doctors of optometry for their comprehensive eye health and vision needs, and even despite historic advancements in optometry’s scope and level of care provided, plans haven’t sufficiently advanced alongside the profession. Toward that end, the AOA and affiliates continue a multi-pronged approach to achieving reimbursement and coverage fairness.  

Experiencing difficulties with a health or vision plan? Report these challenges to the AOA Third Party Center at stopplanabuses@aoa.org 

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