Hundreds of Doctors, Students and Paraoptometrics Participate in AOA’s Virtual Advocacy Event

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AOA President Bill Reynolds, OD, kicks off Virtual AOA on Capitol Hill, reinforcing important care doctors of optometry deliver.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The American Optometric Association (AOA) mobilized hundreds of doctors of optometry, students and paraoptometric professionals across the country to participate in a historic, virtual AOA on Capitol Hill. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the single-largest annual advocacy event and the centerpiece of optometry’s national lobbying efforts was moved from early 2020 to Wednesday and Thursday this week. Its goal was to raise awareness around optometry’s policy priorities and reinforce doctors of optometry essential role in health care.

“With so many pressing issues before the profession, this year’s event may prove to be among the most consequential in the meeting’s history,” AOA president William T. Reynolds, OD, said in a statement about the virtual event. “While nothing can replace the in-depth and in-person advocacy that has become a hallmark of our AOA on Capitol Hill event, this year we’re looking to take full advantage of this key opportunity to meet virtually with hundreds of U.S. House and Senate leaders just as Congress is considering new virus relief legislation, a potential fix to unworkable Contact Lens Rule changes, and addressing worsening vision plan abuses.”

The tremendous growth of AOA on Capitol Hill—from fewer than 200 doctors attending a decade ago to more than 500 doctors and students last year—is a key reason why AOA continues to build a track record of wins and why the organization has been recognized as one of the most effective and respected lobbying groups in the nation's capital, the AOA statement noted. Additionally, for the first time in its history, paraoptometric professionals participated in the meeting.

“Now, more than ever, AOA needs the optometric community to come together and amplify our collective voice,” Dr. Reynolds said. “It is absolutely critical that policy leaders fully understand the wide range of essential eye and vision health care services that doctors of optometry provide to patients each and every day as well as the very real challenges that we face in delivering needed diagnosis and care to millions of Americans in need.”

AOA noted that its federal priority issues that were addressed during several meetings with lawmakers and staff included:

• Convince congress to intervene in the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) final rule amending the Contact Lens Rule, which will require prescribers effective Oct. 16, 2020 to obtain signed acknowledgement forms indicating patients' receipt of contact lens prescriptions, and to keep record of that patient confirmation for at least three years.

• Make the contact lens prescription verification process safer and easier to navigate for patients.

• Rally industry allies against continued anti-patient, anti-doctor vision plan abuses.

• Muster support for the bipartisan bill, H.R. 3762, the Dental and Optometric Care Access Act (DOC Access Act), which would prevent ERISA and other federally regulated vision and health plans from placing limits on a doctor's choice of labs and lenses, as well as levying mandates on noncovered services and materials.

• Guarantee, amid the COVID-19 crisis, that the profession's essential care and physician role continues to be fully recognized in emergency laws and regulations. About 80 percent of doctors of optometry provided urgent and emergency care to more than 200,000 people in a single month during the early stages of the pandemic, the AOA’s Health Policy Institute found. The analysis also revealed that 60 percent of those patients treated in office by doctors of optometry—many for medical issues, including eye infections, removal of foreign objects and other sight-threatening eye injuries—would have otherwise sought care at an emergency department or urgent care center.