Optometrists score win with services bill

Optometrists won another victory Wednesday in their quest to expand their practices.

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted 7-1 for House-passed legislation that would allow optometrists to perform certain procedures only ophthalmologists can do today.

Physician groups lined up to oppose the measure.

Proponents said it would provide expanded access to care and save patients money. But opponents argued that access is not the issue but patient safety is.

House Bill 1065, sponsored by state Rep. J. Rogers Pope, goes to the full Senate where approval is expected. The Senate earlier in the session approved a separate bill dealing with same subject matter.

“This in my opinion is a way we could offer access to additional care to people who have no opportunity to get eye care,” said Pope, R-Denham Springs.

Dr. James Sandifer, executive director of the Optometry Association of Louisiana, said the legislation has been altered since originally filed to take care of some of the concerns of opponents. For instance, Sandifer said some services originally contemplated have been put off-limits to optometrists. Listed are three laser treatments the optometrists want to perform, he said.

Procedures optometrists do not want to do are also listed. Sandifer said, “Making any incision or injecting into the eyeball is prohibited. We are not trying to do refractive surgery.”

Special training and licensing would be required if optometrists want to perform the expanded the services.

Dr. Pamela Williams, a Baton Rouge pediatric ophthalmologist, testified again the measure, reading off a list of the 60-plus medical and other groups opposed to the change.

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors. Optometrists are not and routinely do eye exams, vision tests, diagnose certain eye abnormalities and treat certain eye abnormalities.

“There is not an access problem in Louisiana,” Williams said. “Louisiana is a leader in eye care.”

She said there are full-time practices and satellite clinics in the smallest of communities.

Louisiana is 15th in the nation in the number of ophthalmologists, she said.

Williams said passage of HB1065 would “make Louisiana a less favorable environment to practice ophthalmology” and lead to “two standards of care.”

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.the advocate.com/politicsblog/.

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