Advocacy for the New Grad…and Beyond!

Jun 15, 2016
6 min read

We are in an election year…can you tell?

As most of you, I have been inundated with telemarketers and TV/radio promos over the past 6 months, all touting the auspices of one candidate over the other.

It really can be a little overwhelming and to be honest, somewhat irritating.

Still, I gladly endure the mound of !@#$ each election year because I know that I have a voice and the democratic process is second to none – all you need to do is participate.

This is the perfect time of year to bring up an all too often overlooked aspect to life as a New Grad: Advocacy.

Optometry as a profession is dramatically different than it was 5 years ago, let alone 50.

We have come a long way from the traveling refractionist of the past, to the primary eye care physicians and key cog in the multi-disciplinary healthcare wheel that we are today.

How have we accomplished this change?

Simply put, participation.

We have embraced the legislative process and organized optometry has fought tooth and nail to carve out our niche, building off of our platforms of patient safety and access to care.

Unfortunately, many of us “New Grads” were not around for the all-out brawls that took place in the past and we have only known the benefits of DPAs, TPAs, the medical model, and now with growing implementation, minor surgical and LASER privileges.

This has enabled us to become excellent clinicians and highly skilled at our craft.

However, an unintended consequence from the new age of Optometry is complacency.

I know that we do not like the stereotypes placed on our age group – we have all heard the talk about millennials – but unfortunately, organized optometry is seeing declining numbers within our age group, on both a national and state level. This comes at a time when we have some monumental issues on the horizon that will shape the future of our profession – look no farther than Opternative and the future of online “eye exams.”

We all know that the cost of obtaining that OD degree has skyrocketed and crippling debt and high interest rates, combined with decreased reimbursements and worry for job market saturation have caused the New Grad to look at practice life differently.

We also know that the American Optometric Association, your State Association, Fellowship Dues, Diplomate Dues, Continuing Education and any number of Optometric Political Action Committees cost a pretty penny to participate in.

But did you know that there are sliding scales for annual dues and that State organizations have bylaws in place to assist with financial hardships?

If you have concerns over the cost to participate, all you need to do is call your State Association and start a dialogue, they are there to assist!

These organizations are what have, and what will continue to push forward our profession. Our participation in these groups is paramount – we are next in line. (See, What’s on the docket?)

So with that being said, we each should get on our soap box and encourage our friends and colleagues to either remain active, continue to be active, or re-join your State Association.

We are a small, tight knit community and when working together, we have been extremely successful in moving our profession forward.

Like any political campaign ad, there is always negativity out there. Do not let that get the best of you. Instead, speak up for what is important to you, your practice, and your patients and let Organized Optometry be your voice.

What’s on the docket?

I had the pleasure of attending this year’s AOA Congressional Advocacy Meeting on April 17-19th in Washington DC. If you have not attended this event, I highly encourage you to make it a point and add it to your bucket list.

Seeing how the process works and meeting with your State Congressmen/women and Senators is eye opening. Ask yourself, are you aware of the key pieces of legislation that have a direct impact on Optometry?

Do you know if your state Congressperson or Senator supports these bills?

Dental and Optometric Care Access Act (DOC Access Act) H.R. 3323

Jointly backed by The American Dental Association and the American Optometric Association.

Aimed at outlawing anti-doctor and anti-patient policies imposed by ERISA and other federally regulated vision, dental, and health plans.

Key Points: seeks to eliminate restrictions on medical plan participation, mandatory discounts on non-covered services or materials, and limits placed on a doctor’s choice of lab. Includes an enforcement mechanism which would enable doctors a private right of action, ie, the ability to take an offending plan to court.

Expand Access to the Essential Eye Care America’s Veterans Need and Deserve H.R. 1688

Bipartisan legislation aimed at increasing access to care and decreasing wait times for Essential Eye Health and Vision services at VA hospitals and clinics.

Key Points: seeks to increase the number of Optometric Residencies by nearly 10%, creating an additional 20 Residency positions reserved solely for Optometry. This bill is budget neutral, filling the 20 residency slots under the medical residency expansion program already in place and authorized by Congress in 2014.

National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Improvement Act H.R 1312/ S. 898

Bipartisan legislation aimed at expanding access to Eye Health and Vision services in underserved areas by ending an unfair exclusion of Doctors of Optometry from the NHSC student loan repayment and scholarship programs.

Key Points: Since 2001, ODs have been excluded from the loan repayment and scholarship opportunities through the National Health Service Corps, which provides medical services to residents of underserved areas. This bill will allow ODs to compete for these programs with other health professionals – scholarships and loan repayment, encourage more ODs to practice within the NHSC, and is budget neutral.

Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act   S. 2777

Public health and safety bill aimed at holding internet sellers of contact lenses (FDA schedule 2 and 3 regulated medical devices) accountable for deceptive, abusive, and illegal sales tactics, especially those that cause harm and result in added health care costs.

Key Points: Jointly backed by the American Optometric Association and the American Academy of Ophthalmology. This groundbreaking bill will hold sellers accountable for illegal sales tactics and false claims by increasing fines to sellers to $40,000 per occurrence, ban “robo-calls” for prescription verification and allow the Doctor to choose their preference of verification (live calls, emails, or fax), establish a live patient safety hotline so doctors and staff can talk to a representative from online sellers in person, ensure contact lenses are dispensed exactly as written on the prescription by the Doctor, and direct the Centers for Disease Control to study the public health and health care cost impact of internet seller abuses.

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