Optometry bill set for Jindal’s eyes

Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, answers Wednesday a question from State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, about legislation involving optometrists and ophthalmologists. State Sen. Ben Nevers, R-Bogalusa. Show caption
Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, answers Wednesday a question from State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, about legislation involving optometrists and ophthalmologists. State Sen. Ben Nevers, R-Bogalusa.

It’s up to Gov. Bobby Jindal to decide if optometrists can expand their work into some areas that are currently reserved for eye doctors.

The Louisiana Senate on Wednesday evening gave final passage on a 25-12 vote to legislation that is widely opposed by the medical community. The next step is the governor’s desk.

“It will allow citizens of this state access to much needed (eye) care,” said state Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, adding it would particularly help people living in rural areas where ophthalmologists are few and far between.

State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, said letting optometrists, who are not physicians, do the procedures would be risky. “You could have a serious problem on your hands,” he said.

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

House Bill 1065 sponsored by state Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, spells out specific procedures optometrists would be able to perform after special training and licensing by the state board governing optometry.

“Much work has been done trying to negotiate a compromise between the two groups,” Nevers said as he opened remarks.

Nevers said the legislation detailed what optometrists would be allowed to do, including injections into the eyelid — but not the eyeball — to treat such maladies as styes. It would also permit three laser procedures, two for treatment of glaucoma and one to polish a lens following cataract surgery. No anesthetic or stitches can be involved, he said.

“There would be no grandfathering of any optometrist. Optometrists would have to be retrained ... and certified in these procedures,” Nevers said.

Two senators failed in attempts to amend the legislation.

Appel sought to have the State Board of Medical Examiners credential optometrists who perform “certain medical procedures.”

“For the last 124 years,” Appel said, “people going to do surgery, any medical doctor fell under the jurisdiction of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners.”

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said physicians groups have fought the optometrists “tooth and nail.” Appel’s suggestion would result in the bill never being implemented, he said.

Only seven senators voted for the Appel change while 29 voted against it.

The Senate also rejected an amendment by state Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Shreveport, to tighten up the list of procedures that can be performed. That too failed.

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