WASHINGTON—Two U.S. congressmen—Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) and Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa)—have reintroduced their Dental and Optometric Care legislation (referred to in the past as the “DOC Access” bill) that proponents say will improve quality and access to health care and “target health and vision plan abuses.”

The bill (H.R. 1606) was introduced late last week and was referred to the House’s Committee on Energy and Commerce, which oversees many health care issues. If approved and signed into law, the bill would amend Title XXVII of the Public Health Service Act to “improve health care coverage under vision and dental plans,” according to Congress’ website. The full text of the bill was not available on the site.

According to American Optometric Association, the Dental and Optometric Care Access Act, as it is officially titled, “seeks to empower doctors and patients in their dealings with plans, eliminate a growing level of anti-competitive practices in health care, and help improve overall quality of patient care.”

Reps. Carter and Loebsack introduced a similar bill in 2015 (H.R. 3323), and it drew bipartisan support in the 114th session of Congress but did not make it out of committee review, according to Congress’s website. VMail reported on the earlier bill’s support in a previous story.

Julian Roberts, executive director or the National Association of Vision Care Plans, told VMail he is “disappointed that a bill that was anti-consumer and failed to gain any real traction toward passage last year” has been reintroduced. “The reality is that this proposed legislation significantly limits information consumers need to make informed decisions about the cost of vision benefits and their prescription eyewear,” he added. NAVCP opposes the bill, Roberts said.

In addition to AOA, the proposal has drawn the support of the American Dental Association and Georgia Optometric Association.

“Millions of Americans rely on local doctors of optometry for their comprehensive eye and vision health care needs and it is time to put a stop to the barriers vision plans place on the doctor-patient relationship and access to quality care,” AOA president Andrea P. Thau, OD, said in a statement. “The AOA is proud to support the DOC Access Act and commends Reps. Carter and Loebsack for taking this step to ensure that doctors and patients are again at the center of important, personal health care decisions.”

According to AOA, the DOC Access Act—among other protections—would prohibit federally regulated health, vision, and dental plans from:
• Restrictions on medical plan participation.
• Limits on a doctor's choice of lab.
• Non-covered services and materials mandates

Roberts, however, said he believes the bill would “remove the rights of individual optometrists to decide how and if they want to contract with vision care plans to best serve their patients.”

He added, “Research shows that consumers are four times more likely to seek professional eyecare services from an eyecare professional when offered a vision benefit that includes both an eye exam as well glasses and or contact lenses. Managed vision care plans, therefore, drive loyal patients into optometrists offices not make it harder for optometrists to provide vision care services.”