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Optometrists Form Group to Protect Newly Won Privileges

It’s a ‘ballot question committee to educate voters.’

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Optometrists in Arkansas are organizing to fend off an initiative by ophthalmologists to undo recent legislation, the Arkansas Times reports.

The legislation, signed into law in March, permits optometrists to perform certain surgeries. But Safe Surgery Arkansas, a group of medical doctors, is trying to use a ballot referendum to roll back the legislation.

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Enter Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, which describes itself as “a ballot question committee to educate voters about the improved eye care options available to Arkansans under Act 579 of the 2019 legislative session.”

“Act 579 gives Arkansas patients better access to quality care by allowing optometrists to perform more of the procedures we are absolutely qualified to safely perform,” Dr. Belinda Starkey, an Arkansas optometrist and member of the Arkansans for Healthy Eyes committee, said in a press release announcing the formation of the group.

“Despite the fear tactics being used by opponents, we are actually only talking about a handful of minimally invasive procedures, done right in your optometrist’s chair, and without the need for general anesthesia.”

Amanda Story, spokesperson for Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, said: “The other side claims Arkansans’ eye health is at stake if Act 579 goes into effect, but the truth is, the eye health of Arkansas patients will suffer if this law doesn’t go into effect. For some patients, especially in rural parts of the state, being able to receive enhanced care from their optometrist, instead of having to go through the wait, travel, and added cost of a specialist visit, may mean the difference between getting a needed procedure, or going without.”

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The Times reports that in order to qualify for the ballot, the ophthalmologists’ group will need the signatures of 54,000 registered voters by July 23.

R. Scott Lowery, president of the Arkansas Ophthalmological Society, has been quoted saying: “Every day the people of Arkansas rely on medical doctors who have the experience and training to perform medical procedures to ensure that they are getting world class healthcare in Arkansas. We are confident that when the people are heard on this issue, they will not allow individuals without medical degrees and without surgical residencies to jeopardize the precious eyesight of Arkansans.”

Procedures that the legislation allows optometrists to perform include selective laser trabeculoplasty and Nd:YAG laser procedures, along with injections (excluding intravenous and intraocular), removal of lid lesions and chalazion incision and curettage.

The bill called on the Arkansas Board of Optometry to establish credentialing requirements for optometrists to perform these laser procedures, as well as require those doctors to report the outcomes of their procedures to the board.

Read more at Arkansas Times

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