‘Flawed, Political and Anti-Competitive . . .’



Michael Cohen, OD. 
Those were the words that Judge Matz used in describing the actions of the American Optometric Society (AOS). But, the AOS as an organization is not alone, and optometry in general is not unfettered when it comes to our flaws, political motivations and anti-competitive obsessions. If you’re old enough, you will recall that over the years, the introduction of diagnostic and therapeutic pharmaceutical agents and even the invention of the autorefractor caused mass optometric hysteria.

The ugly truth is that we knowingly include, exclude, elevate, denigrate, embrace and/or shun our fellow ODs. We’ve done it long before many currently practicing optometrists entered the profession, and it continues unabated today.

Doctors who work in affiliation with optical companies have been shunned, excluded and made to feel singular simply due to practice venue. Our history is filled with stories of bright, talented and skilled doctors who have been subjected to professional segregation by academia, local, state and national organizations based solely on where they chose to practice.

Today, there are still nonsensical, dark-age state board rules and state optometry laws that totally prohibit or hold back corporate affiliation. You can be ABO Board Certified, “have exhibited an enhanced level of competence,” according to the American Board of Optometry, and still not be able to choose where and how you practice. If I’m not mistaken, the stay-out list includes Delaware and Maine. California’s Knox-Keene barriers have recently been reinforced by legislature supported by the California Optometric Association, and Oklahoma laws have suffocated retail optical.

The anti-competitive, not-in-my-backyard mania doesn’t stop with corporate affiliation. It extends to private-dispensing practice ODs and corporate alike by barricading, draconian state boards that will have nothing to do with licensure by reciprocity or endorsement.

You can be ABO Board Certified, and a Diplomat of the American Academy of Optometry, a lifelong American Optometric Association leader and a recognized optometric authority with untold awards and lecture credits, but none of that matters in Florida, North Carolina, Nevada and Hawaii, where experienced doctors still have to jump through laughable hoops.

Arkansas is in a “How does that work?” class by itself. The Natural State has reciprocity on the books but has never granted it and, as of a few years ago, has no reciprocal agreements with other states.

How can trade be restrained and competition be limited legally? One way is by awarding a legislator a $5 plastic plaque, providing a photo opportunity at the state capitol and handing over a political action committee check.

I have hope that one day in the not too distant future, optometry will extend an open door to licensure in all states, recognize that practice venue has no bearing on clinical excellence and realize that aggrandizing one group of ODs over others is diminishing to all.

—Michael Cohen, OD.

Michael Cohen, OD, FAAO, is president of OD2OD Consulting in Tarpon Springs, Fla., and was previously vice president, professional services of 1-800 Contacts, Inc., and Cole Vision.