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Dr. Langford Goes to Washington

It has been pretty hard to get an appointment with me this week. Two days out of the office will do that. . .

At the beginning of this week I had the privilege of serving my optometry brethren by advocating on their behalf in Washington D. C. Although I’ve been involved with the politics of optometry my whole career, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to attend the annual American Optometric Association advocacy event.

So just what issues do optometrists have to lobby for? How about for more options than just “one or two”? Or how about for better looking post dilation disposable sunglasses? Or maybe a softer, gentler air puff machine?

Actually, the core of our advocacy efforts is you – OUR PATIENTS. Access to quality eye care is not a given in this country. There are political fights that have been fought to ensure that optometrists are included as providers, thus letting you utilize your benefits in our offices. The greatest example of this would be the battle won twenty-five years ago identifying optometrists as providers under Medicare. That action opened the door for many other insurers to start including optometrists as providers on panels for eye care. In other words, if you have ever been to an optometrist and had some of that visit paid by an insurer than you can thank my optometry predecessors who won that victory for us during the Reagan era.

There are similar battles being fought today. The first bill we lobbied for (HR 1219) would classify optometry as “physicians” under Medicaid (similar to the afore-mentioned Medicare law) thus ensuring that we are able to provide care for Medicaid patients – not just for vision and glasses, but more importantly for eye care including glaucoma, injuries, diabetic eye disease, etc. Currently we do provide this care in Nebraska, but as we have seen in other states it is not inconceivable that all optometric care could be cut from the Medicaid budget. Considering that over 80% of the Medicaid patients in Nebraska get their care from an optometrist, this bill would help ensure access to care for those patients and keep them out of emergency rooms for non-emergent care (thus saving the state lots of money!).

The second bill would allow optometrists to compete for loan repayment scholarships in the National Health Service Corps (HR 1195/S 2192). This is important because right now many of the public health centers in the US lack vision and ocular health care services. As a result, many of the patients who seek care at public health centers have NO access to eye care. Consider this to illustrate the gap – there are currently over 2700 dentists but only 114 optometrists working in public health centers. Further consider that the average loan indebtedness of an optometry school graduate is currently $160,000, and that if they are awarded a scholarship at a NHSC site they qualify for a great loan repayment program – passing this bill would create a great incentive for optometrists to work at NHSC sites and allow much greater access to vision and ocular health care.

So, to all my patients who couldn’t get in to see me early this week, I apologize. But in the long run, I hope my time out of the office will result in your ability to continue to see me for your eye care needs for a long, long time.

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