Optical Groups in Ohio Oppose Consolidation of Regulatory Boards

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COLUMBUS, Ohio—Separate bills in the state legislature here propose a consolidation of several health-related regulatory boards—including the Ohio Optical Dispensers Board (OODB) and state Board of Optometry—under a new structure. The bills are pending in both the Senate and House, but could end up as attachments to other, non-related legislation that gains approval this year, or land in legislative purgatory as time runs out on the state’s 131st legislative session.

The boards overseeing optometry and optical dispensing would be consolidated under a new State Vision and Hearing Professionals Board as part of comprehensive administrative services bills introduced in both the House and Senate.

The Senate in Ohio is expected to meet as late as Dec. 28, while the House calendar shows scheduled sessions only until Dec. 14, according to a calendar posted on the legislature’s website. Since this is a “lame duck” session of the legislature, the bills would have to be re-introduced in the next session if they are not approved by year’s end.

If the bill becomes law, however, the new State Vision and Hearing Professionals Board would be comprised of nine members, but only two dispensing opticians and two optometrists. Other members would be: one ophthalmologist, two speech-language pathologists, one audiologist and one public member. The new board would begin operating July 1, 2017.

Both the Ohio Optometric Association (OOA) and the Opticians Association of Ohio (OAO) have taken a stand against the proposal. Keith Kerns, OOA’s executive director, and Mark Glasper, executive director of OAO, told VMail that the respective regulatory boards that would be affected by this consolidation are fully funded by the payment of licensure fees.

Kerns also noted that the Board of Optometry has “operated at or under budget for more than a decade.” Some Ohio lawmakers view the consolidation of the boards as a way to reduce the state’s costs, or to avoid conflict with a recent Supreme Court decision covering antitrust issues in the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC.

In a note to members earlier this month, OAO said it believes the letter-writing campaign it has advocated is having an impact on legislators “who may not support passage of the bill this year.”

Among its objections to the bill, OAO noted that the Optical Dispensers Board is “extremely efficient by utilizing a staff of only three persons to regulate more than 5,000 opticians and apprentices.”

Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz said in an email note to VMail that he doesn’t expect the proposed legislation to reach the governor this year, but said he would re-introduce the bill in 2017. In the House, the bill is sponsored by Rep. Sarah LaTourette, who did not respond to request for comment about whether she would continue to sponsor the consolidation legislation next year.