A House Committee in Florida Legislature Postpones Action on Optometry Bill

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—The Health and Human Services Committee in Florida’s House of Representatives late last week postponed a vote on a bill that would, for the first time, permit optometrists to perform certain eyecare procedures, including some laser practices.

The bill, HB 1037, was introduced in February by Rep. Manny Diaz (R-Hialeah) and has recently become a lightning rod for criticism by several professional groups in Florida who oppose the proposal. Similar bills in past years have in other states also pitted optometrists against ophthalmologists in a debate around the scope of practice for ODs.

The Florida bill would authorize “certified optometrists in ophthalmic surgery” to perform laser and non-laser procedures in which human tissue is “injected, cut, burned, frozen, sutured, vaporized, coagulated or photo-disrupted” with instruments such as a scalpel, cryoprobe, laser and/or electric cautery. The bill also expands the range of medications a certified optometrist can administer or prescribe, and states that Florida’s Board of Optometry has sole authority to determine the scope of practice of optometry in the state.

A spokeswoman for the House’s Health and Human Services Committee told VMail that the bill was on the committee’s agenda to be voted upon on Thursday (April 20), but that the vote was postponed. No other details about the postponement were available late last week. A similar bill in the state Senate reportedly has been stalled in committee.

The Florida Optometric Association (FOA) is one of the groups that support the legislation. April Jasper, OD, president of the association, noted in a recent guest commentary published in the Naples Daily News, that the legislation would expand patient access to care.

“Let’s change the narrative on these issues and stop looking at it as a ‘scope of practice’ debate,” she wrote. “Instead, focus on it as ‘expanded patient access proposals’—centered on safe, quality eye health care for all Floridians—and not just another industry food fight.”

Opponents of the bill—including the Florida Society of Ophthalmology—contend that it poses a risk to patient eye health safety.

Another opponent of the bill is the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at University of Miami School of Medicine. In a letter to Florida legislators the Institute noted that ophthalmologists complete 12 years of training, including three years of ophthalmology residency. “There are no shortcuts to learning to safely perform eye surgery,” the letter, signed by Bascom’s chairman of ophthalmology Eduardo Alfonso, MD, noted.