Oklahoma Legislature Working on Bill That Would Allow ECPs to Practice in ‘Big-Box’ Retail Locations

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla.—Oklahoma, one of two states that prohibit optometrists from practicing in large retail stores, appears on the way to changing this regulation with new legislation now moving through the legislature. The effort to alter the state law in Oklahoma comes after the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians conducted “an ongoing dialogue” with representatives of Walmart to work out compromise language that both sides are comfortable with, OAOP chief executive officer Joel Robinson told VMAIL. “From our perspective, [the new bill] keeps all of the current patient protections and doctor regulations in place,” he said.

In late 2018, Oklahoma voters narrowly rejected ballot question 793, which would have amended the state constitution and opened the way for some retailers to operate optometry practices within their buildings, as VMAIL reported. But the closeness of that vote indicated that Oklahomans wanted more eyecare and eyewear options, Robinson has said.

Subsequent to that vote, OAOP surveyed its members and set up a task force in March to address the issue of permitting optometrists to practice within large stores such as those operated by Walmart and Target and how to reach a compromise, Robinson said.

As a result, legislators have reworked the language of a bill that began in the House and is now known as Senate Bill 100. It would allowing retailers with large-format stores such as Walmart and Target to sell prescription eyewear while also leasing office space in the building to independent optometrists. The ECPs would not be employed or directed by the retailer.

Oklahoma state Sen. Kim David is one of the proponents of SB 100, and she recently had the bill sent to a conference committee to work out final language for the bill before having both houses vote on the proposal. Robinson said he expects the bill to come out of committee by the end of the week.

The bill’s current language stipulates that an optometry practice within a store must be owned and operated by an Oklahoma optometrist who would lease the space from the retailer. The sales of glasses and contacts are handled separately.

However, even if the current bill is signed into law, some outlying parts of Oklahoma would have to wait to see an impact. The legislation includes a staggered rollout based on population. Retailers would be allowed to offer optometry services as soon as Nov. 1 of this year in only two counties, Tulsa and Oklahoma counties, because they have populations above 300,000, Robinson said.