The American Association of
Doctors of Optometry

NEW YORK—Two new associations of optical professionals have recently been launched, The American Association of Doctors of Optometry (AADO) and The Optometric Society (TOS). The AADO was started in the summer of 2013, and the TOS officially opened for business Jan. 1, 2014. Both nascent organizations broadly describe their purpose as providing “a voice for eyecare professionals.”

Defined as a “professional membership organization” whose status as a Nevada-based non-profit mutual benefit 501(c)(6) tax-exempt corporation is pending, “The Optometric Society is a new organization to serve those doctors who want a voice and representation in their profession,” Lisa Shin, OD, interim president of the TOS, told VMail.

Promotional materials from TOS state, “Concern over the present state of the profession should prompt optometrists in all modes of practice to join.” Shin elaborated that those concerns include “the increased role of government in health care, the proliferation of schools and colleges of optometry and the influence and control of third-party payers.”

When asked about the impetus for founding this new organization, Shin told VMail, “Our members feel their voice is being lost in the larger discussion about what is best for the profession. There are many issues facing optometrists and their ability to practice independently. We hope to address these issues and work within the profession to improve the quality of eyecare while advancing the profession as a whole.”

TOS interim board members held their first meeting earlier this month. In attendance were president Lisa Shin, OD; vice president Gary S. Litman, OD, FAAO; secretary Jennifer Flaherty, OD; and treasurer Michael A. Santarlas, OD.

The organization’s founders felt there was a need for a different type of optometric organization. “The Optometric Society will not be an organization where its leaders make decisions for everyone else,” Shin further explained to VMail. “We felt there was a need for an organization that was more representative. That’s why polls will be very important to our organization. We will ask our membership where they stand on the issues, and the leadership will move in the direction of these polls.”

The TOS posts seven bullet points within its mission statement, among them to: Represent the individual optometrist, regardless or practice modality; promote a positive, mutually supportive relationship among the membership, the schools of optometry, residency programs, the state boards of optometry and other optometric professional organizations; to improve the quality and accessibility of optometric care available to the public; and to ensure that licensed doctors of optometry are properly recognized by the public, its regulators, third-party payers and the government, and that they are not excluded from programs available to the profession and third-party payer plans.

While both new associations cite “unfair treatment” by third-party payers as among the reasons for their founding, The American Association of Doctors of Optometry more specifically defines its mission as “directly opposing unfair and illegal business practices by vision care plans.” In fact, in its promotional materials, the AADO cites this as its primary reason for starting the organization: “The mission of the AADO is to improve the quality of eyecare in America. That starts by removing barriers to the delivery of optometric care and restoring competition among eyecare providers.”

AADO founder and executive director, Craig S. Steinberg, OD, JD, explained to VMail that “independent optometrists can’t unionize because we don’t have a common employer,” but at the same time they are feeling the pressure from third-party payers. “When third-party plans impose upon all independent eyecare providers a set of rules requiring everyone to have the same discounts, have lab work done by the same labs and source their materials from the same suppliers, there’s a natural impact that stifles competition,” Steinberg said. “Maybe if optometrists could contribute to one collective fund they could create something powerful enough to stand up to third-party plans.”

One of the AADO’s first actions was hiring Washington, DC, antitrust attorney David Balto for the purpose of investigating vision plans for illegal actions. “To defend you against the recent avalanche of predatory actions and contract changes imposed by third-party vision plans, Balto will investigate the third-party payer practices and contracts and then represent the AADO before the Federal Trade Commission seeking a federal investigation into practices the AADO believes to be anti-competitive, unfair and illegal,” stated the AADO’s promotional materials.

“He’s just in the investigatory phase,” Steinberg told VMail about Balto, “but if it’s his opinion that there may be antitrust issues, he’d present them to attorneys general, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to pursue a federal case.”

Joining Steinberg on the AADO board of trustees are Art Epstein, OD, FAAO; Steve Silberberg, OD; and Edward Melman, OD. The AADO is a California non-profit mutual benefit corporation. Its status as an IRS tax-exempt 501(c)(6) organization is pending.

Unlike the newly formed TOS, which is comprised solely of optometrists (any licensed optometrist or optometry student may join), the AADO welcomes all eyecare professionals. “I’ve been receiving communications from all over the country and outside the U.S. from organizations that want to support what the AADO is doing—independent labs, ophthalmologists, national optician organizations,” Steinberg said.

AADO membership fees are $400 per year, $225 for a half year or $39 per month. For TOS, annual membership dues are $150. The TOS fee will be waived for those members who use the organization’s preferred provider, Total Merchant Services, for credit card processing services. While TOS currently has “several dozen” members, according to Shin, “I’m hoping for 1,000,” she told VMail. Steinberg told VMail that the AADO currently has about 200 members, with the goal to exceed 1,000.

The Optometric Society will meet once a year at its annual continuing education symposium, which this year will be held April 25 to 27 at the Chicago O’Hare Renaissance. AADO will have no annual membership meeting. “It’s not that kind of organization,” Steinberg explained. “It’s set up so members contribute to a common fund to enable AADO to act independently on their behalf.”

Both organizations assert that they are not associated with the American Optometric Society (AOS), the association that went bankrupt fighting board certification by the American Board of Optometry, as reported by VMail July 24, 2013. “TOS is separate from AOS, which was formed specifically in response to board certification,” Shin told VMail. “TOS was formed to represent optometrists on a broad range of issues. While it is not focused on board certification, TOS agrees with AOS on the importance of representing the individual doctor.”

However, some of the founding members of both organizations had been involved with the AOS. For example, The Optometric Society’s chief financial officer, Thomas R. Cheezum, OD, had been the treasurer of the American Optometric Society, and the AADO’s Steinberg had been its legal counsel.

Both organizations also stress that their missions do not supplant those of the American Optometric Association (AOA) but rather supplement them. “AOA’s advocacy group has done an excellent job advancing our profession on the federal and state legislative level,” Shin told VMail. “TOS is new and obviously does not have a political lobby but hopes to work with AOA and other professional associations, state boards of optometry, etc. on political matters, when this serves the interests of its members.”