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Is an Optometrist a Physician? Lawmakers in Florida Vote a Resounding No

The American Optometric Association says it is ‘tirelessly working to have SB 230 vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.’

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Optometrists and ophthalmologists have long jostled for position within the optical industry.

Optometrists have made inroads recently in a handful of states to increase their scope of practice.

However, ophthalmologists are on the verge of claiming victory in the latest battle in the ongoing “eyeball wars.”

Florida state senate bill 230 cleared its final hurdle in the state legislature last week and awaits the signature of Gov. Ron DeSantis to become law. SB 230, in part, prohibits optometrists from referring to themselves as “physicians” to their patients or in their marketing. The bill reportedly was a top priority of Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo.

Proponents touted the bill as a needed step to ensure transparency and promote patient safety. Bill sponsor Senator Gayle Harrell, among others, argued that healthcare practitioners should be allowed to only use titles based on their respective profession’s practice act.

Opponents of the bill, including the American Optometric Association (AOA) and the Florida Optometric Association (FOA), have called attention to the uneven consequences of the bill. For instance, dentists, podiatrists, and optometrists all complete similar four-year college degrees. Yet, SB 230 only strips the title “physician” from optometrists. (Audiologists and acupuncturists face the same fate as optometrists.)

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After a state senate hearing on the bill in March, the FOA issued a statement that read in part: “It is especially disturbing to note that these other allied health professionals are now permitted to use the terms and titles of ‘doctor and physician’ in identifying themselves and their education and training, while optometrists would be prohibited from doing so.”

The Florida House added an amendment to SB 230 last week which would have allowed optometrists to continue to use the title physician. The amended bill passed 111-3 in the House. However, the Florida Senate rejected the amendment and sent the bill back to the House, where representatives eventually voted 78-34 in favor of the bill. (You can track the history of the bill here.)

Sen. Harrell brushed aside the amendment, telling the website Florida Politics that it was “classic eyeball wars.”

The AOA has vowed to not go down without a fight in this “war.”

“The proposed legislation undermines the doctor-patient relationship that will, in turn, jeopardize patient outcomes,” said the AOA in a statement this week. (Read the full statement below.)

The AOA and FOA will now focus their attention on getting SB 230 vetoed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

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Currently, the AOA is working alongside seven state affiliates to combat legislation on the state level “that potentially seeks to block, limit or discourage doctors of optometry from being referenced as doctors and physicians.”

AOA statement on Florida SB 230

“The American Optometric Association (AOA) will vigorously oppose any attempt to prevent Florida-licensed doctors of optometry from legally practicing at the highest levels allowed by state and federal law, including their ability to effectively communicate with their patients by introducing unnecessary confusion. The proposed legislation undermines the doctor-patient relationship that will, in turn, jeopardize patient outcomes.

Is an Optometrist a Physician? Lawmakers in Florida Vote a Resounding NoThe AOA, in concert with the Florida Optometric Association (FOA), is tirelessly working to have SB 230 vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. However, in the event this does not happen, the AOA will continue to stand side by side with the FOA and their patients. The AOA will use all means necessary to identify and defend against unjust targeting of our FOA members and the optometric profession.

If necessary, the AOA is prepared to take steps up to and including legal action against any effort to discriminate against the profession of optometry or infringe on optometry’s essential and expanding role in the Florida health care system.”

Update: Washington state Senate Bill 5389

The Washington state legislature has passed a bi-partisan bill that would increase the scope of practice for opticians in the state.

Washington state Senate bill 5389 would, among other things, allow optometrists to use lasers during exams or for treatments, and let them remove objects from eyes. (Read more about the bill here.)

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The bill passed the Senate 46-2 on March 6. It was amended and passed the House 81-15 on April 10. The amended bill then passed the Senate 47-1 on April 18. The bill currently is waiting signature from Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

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