SDCOS takes on Capitol Hill in Sacramento
By: Carrie Turley, OD
San Diego County Optometric Society Members stormed Capitol Hill for yet another important event at our state’s Capitol in Sacramento, California on February 27th. COA’s Legislative Day, also known as Keyperson Day, was a huge success with representation of close to 200 optometrists from all over the state. Also in attendance were a large number of students representing all three California Optometry Schools - Southern California College of Optometry, UC Berkeley School of Optometry, and Western College of Optometry. I would like to thank the members from our society for taking time out of their practices to attend and meet with over eight legislators. Our 2013 Keypersons were Drs. Greg Hom, Bob Meisel, Doug Osbourne, Dick Skay, Erin Swift, and Carrie Turley. Prior to meeting with legislators at the Capitol, optometrists met at the Sacramento Sheraton Grand Hotel to listen to presentations regarding key issues. Also present at the meeting was a Health Care Reform Panel comprised of Senator Ed Hernandez, OD, Brent Barnhart (Director, CA Dept. of Managed Health Care), David Panush (External Affairs Director, Covered California), and Jason Gabhart (COA External Relations Manager) to address questions and concerns regarding the major issues with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how it will impact optometry.
In addition to the Health Care Reform Discussion Panel, was a legislative update given by distinguished speaker, Senator Ed Hernandez, OD. Senator Hernandez introduced groundbreaking legislation with SB 492 that identifies us not only as optometrists but as optometric physicians. This spot bill proposes redefining optometrists to practice in a more comprehensive capacity. SB 492 recognizes the expected shortage of medical providers and the need to control healthcare costs with the influx of newly-insured Californians beginning in 2014. Expanding the definition of “optometrist” would position us to “man the gap” by continuing to provide quality eye care for all Californians, while breaking down the barriers of optometrist becoming medical insurance panel providers. In addition, SB 492 would enable optometrists to assist in the treatment and diagnosis of common systemic illness, such as diabetes and hypertension, especially for California’s poor and under-served. As trained professionals, we would be instrumental in helping to fill this void. Redefining optometry and optometrists will also help to address our abilities to utilize any future technologies – something that has been a bit of an Achilles heel for our profession. Obtaining the proper language now will allow optometrists to move towards full scope optometry.
Implementation of the ACA next year is expected to bring a “workforce” shortage of doctors able to provide adequate care. Since the ACA will mandate every person to have health insurance, there are currently not enough primary care physicians to see every patient. This is a huge problem. The ACA will add 3-5 million new Californians to the health care delivery system. SB 492 plans to utilize our “current workforce” more efficiently, allowing optometrists to play an integral role in Primary Care. A coalition of professions including nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists as well as optometrists have been working collaboratively to start the groundwork to help fill the need for quality health care providers at the poverty level. As you can see, this is an exciting bill for optometrists that will allow us to practice more comprehensively. SB 492 is still in the initial phases and committee hearings regarding the details of this bill have begun starting March 13, 2013.
If you were unable to attend Legislative Day, there may still be local opportunities to meet with Senate and Assembly Members and stay involved. If you are interested in becoming or staying active and engaged in your home districts, here are a few ways to participate in advocacy for optometry:
• Respond to Key Person advocacy alerts by e-mailing or calling your legislators
• Attend district events for local legislatures
• Meet with your legislator in the district office when COA notifies that action is needed on legislation
• Recruit more Key Persons for optometry
• Contribute to COA and AOA PACs
• Read COA’s Government Affairs Weekly e-mails
Several of the legislators expressed interest at Legislative Day in learning more about our optometric profession and meeting optometrists in their respective districts. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact Dr. Bob Meisel at email@example.com or Dr, Dick Skay at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Our involvement in advocacy protects and promotes the optometric profession in the legislature. As optometrists we need to be prepared, strong, and united to keep optometry moving forward!