Proposed Legislation in Massachusetts Would Permit Optometrists to Provide Treatment for Glaucoma

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BOSTON—Separate proposals in both houses of the state legislature here would expand the role of the optometrists in treating glaucoma, and an independent study says the move could save the state almost $20 million in health care spending annually.

In Massachusetts, optometrists are permitted to screen all patients for glaucoma and eye infections, but if these conditions are detected they must refer patients to an ophthalmologist.

As of midday Thursday, one of the proposed bills was attached to state budget legislation in the Senate and, in the House, House bill No. 1169 previously had been referred to committee, according to Massachusetts Society of Optometrists executive director Jay Gardiner. If the Senate passes the budget legislation, the proposal likely would be part of a conference committee’s discussion of the state’s budget legislation next week and could gain approval along with the state budget.

“We’re very hopeful,” Massachusetts Society of Optometrists president Matthew Forgues told VMail, speaking of the prospects for the glaucoma proposal to be included in the budget bill that wins approval by the state Senate.

The House bill notes that 49 other states already have enacted laws authorizing optometrists to treat glaucoma, which permits “patients the right to choose their care provider.” In other states “patients with glaucoma have been successfully diagnosed and treated by optometrists for over 40 years,” the House bill notes.

“The U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission in 2016 strongly recommended the Massachusetts General Court update its antiquated glaucoma laws,” according to the language in the House bill.

The Massachusetts Senate on six occasions has approved proposed legislation that would have allowed optometrists to treat glaucoma, Gardiner told VMail.

According to a study conducted by Health Management Associates, the proposed legislation would generate savings by, among other things, allowing optometrists, not just ophthalmologists, to treat styes, ocular rosacea and dry eye ($9.4 million) and would reduce eye-related emergency room visits ($6.4 million). The study did not include any potential savings from transportation costs associated with some patients’ treatments.

“It’s clear that bringing Massachusetts in line with the other 49 states’ eyecare practices would be a win-win for patients and the state budget,” Forgues noted in an earlier statement. “Patients get more convenient, excellent, faster care, while the state saves significant money on its Medicaid reimbursements.”