Senator Ward has again introduced her “Quality Eye Care for Insured Pennsylvanians” bill, SB 257. This bill provides Pennsylvanians protection from the actions of Vision Care Plans. The designs of these plans often attempt to restrict the patient’s freedom of choice by dictating the suppliers and brands of products that are covered by their plans. As these companies continue to vertically integrate, they increasingly force our patients into products that financially benefit the Vision Care Plan, at the expense of patient choice. The bill also helps to limit the discounts our members are forced to give, limiting it to services and products that are actually covered by the plan.
In addition, Representative Marshall is reintroducing his handicapped placard bill. Currently, optometrists are not authorized to certify a patient as disabled, even though blindness is an eligibility criteria for a parking placard. Obviously, this will be a huge convenience for our disabled patients, preventing them from having to schedule an unnecessary office visit with another health care provider just to be certified.
And finally, Senator Gordner plans to introduce a scope of practice bill. Optometrists are currently subjected to some outdated regulations in the Optometric Practice Act. Any new medications need to be approved by the Secretary of Health, resulting in a delay in our patients having accessibility to new and beneficial treatments. For example, when Xiidra was introduced last summer, it took about four months for it to be approved. Another regulation requires optometrists to consult with a medical doctor when a patient’s treatment exceeds six weeks. This requirement was not included when the scope legislation was modified to include glaucoma. If there is no issue with optometrists treating glaucoma beyond six weeks, there should not be an issue with dry eye or allergy drops either. It is definitely time for these outdated regulations to be removed. The bill will also allow optometrists to prescribe hydrocodone again, which was lost when it was reclassified as a level 2 narcotic, and allow injections for anaphylaxis and into the upper and lower eyelids.
Spring also means it is time for you, our member, to get moving, too. For these legislative initiatives to have success, there are a couple things we need from you. First, we need you to begin forging a relationship with your local Representative and Senator. Watch for any events they are sponsoring in your district, make an attempt to attend, and introduce yourself as an optometrist in their district. If you already have a good relationship with your legislator, and are not a Keyperson for that legislator, please contact the POA office and let Executive Director Joseph Ricci know. Keep your eyes open for communications from the POA as we will advise you of the appropriate times to contact your legislators about these bills. Also watch for legislative training sessions coming to your part of the state soon! Lastly, we need continued support of POPAC. If you are not currently on a monthly contribution schedule, please call the POA office and set that up.
Remember that all of the work that has been done on these initiatives will be for naught if there is not significant support from the general membership. It will take the support and contribution of every member if you want some of these changes to happen. I continue to look forward to a productive year and hope to see everyone in Pittsburgh for Congress from May 18-21!
Steven Eiss, O.D.