Based on conversations I’ve seen on “ODs on Facebook” it appears many Optometrists aren’t clear on the value our State and National Associations bring to the table. So let’s play a game. We’ll call it “Bettering your Profession”.
What are the rules? Simple. Rule # 1, put patient care first. Rule # 2, attend and learn from continuing education. Rule # 3, continue to enlighten your patients, neighbors and friends about your profession. Rule # 4, practice medical optometry to the full extent of your education and within the scope of your state license. Rule # 5, cultivate and support the relationship you have with companies, corporations and individuals who support your profession. Rule # 6, be a participant (financially and physically) in your state and national association. I’d like to hone in on this last item because it is the most important item and the rule that I feel is crucial we revisit.
State and National Associations
State associations are responsible for many things, one of which is creating bills for legislation with the goal to expand scope of practice and defending the profession against those who might have an interest in holding it back. As you would expect, the national associations lobby for the profession on a national level, ensuring inclusion in various national health programs, ensuring our status as health care providers is maintained, arguing against technologies or businesses who might lower the standard of eye care to the citizens of our states and country, educating the public about the importance of regular eye care and teaching the public what our profession brings to the table and so much more.
Here are a few more examples of what the AOA has recently achieved:
- Defined optometry as primary eye care providers able to “prevent, diagnose, treat and manage diseases and disorders of the visual system and the eye”
- Gained optometric inclusion in Medicare
- Secured recognition as physicians under Medicare
- Won provider nondiscrimination language in health care reform
- Secured tax relief for optometrists in recent tax reform legislation
These battles were only won because the American Optometric Association (AOA), our affiliated associations and members worked tirelessly every day to effect change to ensure you can provide the best care for your patients. Undoubtedly, in order to succeed, both organizations require involvement from members and money to successfully lobby state and national legislatures to advance the profession, defend the profession from those who might otherwise want to hold it back, and maintain standards of care for citizens all in the interest of the visual and eye health welfare of the populace.
These organizations don’t run themselves; they require a dedicated grassroots effort both in terms of volunteer time from members and fundraising. ODs like you and me take a significant time away from their practices and their family to ensure the future of our profession at great personal and financial expense. They work on the frontlines 24/7/365 advocating for doctors and our priorities in Washington, D.C., in every state across the country, in national campaigns including, Think About Your Eyes and leadership positioning in the media.
It is this dedication by our fellow colleagues which forwards our inclusion in government healthcare bills and policies. This tireless work directly benefits our patients, increases patient access to care, expands our scope of practice, helps the healthcare system by reducing government costs of healthcare, as well as educating legislators about the pitfalls and failures of shortcuts to proper eye health (such as online eye exams) which all results in a higher standard and quality of care. Why do we do it? To care for our patients as best as possible. All of this will ultimately make our practices stronger.
What Can You Do?
There are 4 types of Optometrists when it comes to helping out; (1) those who put in the time but don’t donate money, (2) those who don’t have time so they donate money, (3) those who do both and (4) those who ride on the coattails of the first three types. Which group are you in? Are you proud of your contribution to your state and/or national organization?
Political Action Committees (PACs) exist to advance a professions agenda. PACS are funded mostly by membership dues and contributions. Historically Optometry’s PAC has been ¼ the size of the Ophthalmology PAC and when compared to the other medical professions that legislate against us it is even less. This has held us back significantly, but it wouldn’t take much to exceed the fundraising of those who hope to hold us back. What would it take to equal the playing field? Let’s use the example of a state with a weak glaucoma law. An average glaucoma patient is worth approximately $800 per year to a practice. If you can’t practice to the extent of your education, your patients AND your practice suffer. If all of us donated the revenue we earn from just one glaucoma patient our PAC would far exceed the combined assets of all the PACS that fight against us and we would likely see huge national legislative gains. If ¼ of all Optometrists wrote a one-time $500 (not even $800 or less than the income from one glaucoma patient) check to their state PAC and/or AOA PAC we would have $5,000,000 to fund our efforts, more than the American Medical Association ($4,000,000) has in their entire PAC.
Let’s Be Honest
A profession that is not advancing legislatively is dying. Without strong state and national organizations to legislate, the future for the Optometrists looks bleak. Our organizations fight battles on multiple fronts, yet a large number of us fail to support them in any way. Some of us even purposefully sabotage their efforts on our behalf. Instead of our wholehearted support, we choose to hold grudges and have internal fights that hurt no one but ourselves. We fail to see the forest through the trees. This behavior is professionally self-destructive. Optometry faces enough challenges from the outside. So let’s be honest, not everyone loves everything about their state association or the American Optometric Association. Not everyone is going to be in favor of all policies or programs. That’s fine, regardless we need to come together for the greater good by supporting our colleagues who fight the good fight. In my opinion, this makes this rule the most important rule.
The progress optometry has made in the past several decades has only been possible because of our efforts on the frontlines together. While it may be hard for some to believe today, there is still deep-seated and powerful anti-optometry bias out there. From media personalities peddling online vision tests or blaming doctors for everything from the opioid crisis to suppressing competition in the contact lens market, to vision plans, internet sales companies, organized medicine, and even government agencies, there are many who fuel the anti-optometry movement. And, ultimately, their goal is to not only impede progress but turn the clock back and threaten the care we deliver to patients and our profession as a whole.
If you would like to work to advance your profession, contact your state board members or your AOA trustees to find out what opportunities are available. To make your contributions, please visit this link www.AOA.org. I have made a $500 contribution and challenge everyone who reads this to do the same. To get in the fight, go to www.AOA.org/join right away, and join the AOA and your state association. Then, please bring a colleague with you. We can win, but not without a unified concerted effort.
Thank you to Andrew Morgenstern, OD and Barbara Horn, OD for their contributions.