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American Optometric Association Prepares to Fight New Legislation that Limits ‘Doctor’ Designations

“Legislative proposals attempting to prevent doctors of optometry from using the term ‘doctor’ are harmful to patients and petty from organized medicine.”

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(PRESS RELEASE) ALEXANDRIA, VA — The American Optometric Association (AOA) and state associations in Florida, Connecticut and Texas have notified members and the vision community of their plans to fight legislation potentially seeking to block, limit or discourage doctors of optometry from being referenced as doctors and physicians. Currently, the anti-optometry language in the legislation has been rooted out and is being actively opposed by affected state associations and the AOA.

AOA advocacy leaders view the emergence of state “Not a Doctor” bills as an attempt to derail a new round of optometry-centered scope modernization and expanded patient access proposals being considered by legislatures in a dozen states. In 2021 and 2022, Wyoming, Mississippi, Virginia and Colorado all overcame opposition to enact optometric laser procedure laws, boosting to 10 the number of states where the profession’s education, skills and training for this type of contemporary care is recognized in statute.

The bills also reveal the linkage to an old American Medical Association (AMA)-backed campaign to build support for the “Not a Doctor” legislation, also known as the “Sullivan Bill,” which was rejected in successive sessions of Congress.

“Optometry will continue to look to the future and the needs of our patients as we advocate for our full recognition and scope modernization priorities and lock in more wins,” said AOA President, Ronald L. Benner, O.D. “It’s clear today, however, that those who desperately want to turn back the clock on our advancement need a fresh reminder that our advocacy strength and know-how is also able to defeat any bill that does not clearly recognize optometry’s status as the nation’s primary eye care doctors.”

Facing this renewed attack at the state level, the Florida Optometric Association (FOA) has been mobilizing doctors, optometry students, staff and concerned patients in fighting back.

“Senate Bill 230 is particularly concerning because it has the potential to directly impact the perceived role optometrists play in providing access to quality eye care for Floridians throughout the state,” FOA President Mark Marciano, O.D., says. “The FOA will continue to defend our high level of doctoral education, patient skills and training, while keeping our doctor-patient relationship unencumbered from political abuses. Our efforts will primarily focus on the goal of ensuring that optometrists are recognized as honorable and valuable members of the eye health care team.” 

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The bill filed Feb. 9 in the Florida Senate relates to health care practitioners’ titles and abbreviations used in their advertisements, communications and personal identification. It requires health care practitioners to identify themselves in a specific manner, disclosing the type of license under which an individual practitioner is authorized to provide services and the title and abbreviations specified by the bill when treating patients and further, it states the grounds for disciplinary action and denial of licensure by practitioners’ regulatory boards. “Only physicians may include titles and abbreviations or medical specialties in their advertisements,” it reads.

The bill does not specifically reference optometry, but there is concern that the restrictions on titles could later be used to attack the qualifications of doctors of optometry, in particular those who specialize in certain areas of optometry.  In addition, the proposed ban on the use of the term “physician” in any capacity potentially conflicts with the recognition of physician status for optometrists under federal law.

In Texas, H.B.2324 was introduced Feb. 14 and relates to “regulation of certain health professionals and health facilities.”

“Legislative proposals attempting to prevent doctors of optometry from using the term ‘doctor’ are harmful to patients and petty from organized medicine,” says Tommy Lucas, O.D., director of advocacy for the Texas Optometric Association. “In Texas, we are currently monitoring this type of legislation that would affect the nursing profession but does not affect optometry in the bill’s current form. States should remain vigilant in protecting patients from confusing public policy that would potentially delay and hinder their important eye care.”

Since Medicare reform in the 1980s, the AOA and doctors of optometry have relentlessly pursued physician recognition and will continue to advocate on behalf of the profession. The AOA will continue to focus on the Future Practice Initiative (FPI), a campaign to directly support affiliate scope modernization efforts, while simultaneously combatting misinformation from extremist groups.

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