American Optometric Association’s Congressional Advocacy Conference Supports Optometry on Capitol Hill

By

WASHINGTON, D.C.—More than 600 optometrists, students, third-party professionals and state leaders gathered on Capitol Hill, Sept. 9-11, for the American Optometric Association’s Congressional Advocacy Conference. Attendees participated in meetings on Capitol Hill, talks with top Obama administration officials implementing the new health care law, and discussions led by optometry’s authorities in federal, state and third-party advocacy.

“Never before has health care needed optometry more than today,” Barry J. Barresi, OD, PhD, the AOA's executive director, told conference participants. “Never before has optometry needed the AOA more than today.”

AOA president Mitchell T. Munson, OD, rallied attendees to support legislative priorities. “The AOA continues to make the voice of optometry heard in our nation’s capital thanks to the willingness of member doctors and students to take the profession’s message directly to our lawmakers,” he said. “This year’s legislative priorities are focused on our continued commitment to gain equity in Medicaid, inclusion in the National Health Service Corp and defeating anti-optometry initiatives.” Optometry-specific legislation now before Congress includes the Optometric Equity in Medicaid Act (H.R. 855) and the National Health Service Corps Improvement Act (H.R. 920 and S. 1445).

During the conference, the AOA also honored optometry’s legislative champions: Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-Texas); Rep. Brad Wenstrup, DPM, (R-Ohio); Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii); Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.); Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.); and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

Earlier in the week, more than 200 state affiliate leaders gathered to discuss emerging topics at the state level at the 2013 State Legislative and Third Party National Conference. This is the third meeting of both state legislative and third-party leaders to discuss joint issues facing optometrists. At the meeting, volunteers discussed topics such as how to fight discriminatory practices by health plans, Medicaid advocacy, scope of practice issues and dealing with kiosks and online eyeglasses sales.

In addition, attendees heard from Norman Ward, MD, about how optometry works within an accountable care organization (ACO). Dr. Ward is the executive medical director for Accountable Care, Fletcher Allen Health Care, and executive medical director, OneCare Vermont, an ACO.

Joining the meeting this year were six optometrist state legislators who were honored with AOA Public Service Awards: Rep. James Beverly, OD, from Georgia; Sen. David Curtis, OD, from North Carolina; Sen. David R. Heitmeier, OD, from Louisiana; Rep. Deborah A. Long, OD, from South Carolina; Rep. James McClendon, Jr., OD, from Alabama; Sen. David Parker, OD, from Mississippi.

The AOA honored state legislators with Public Service Awards. Pictured above are (l to r) Deanna Alexander, OD SGRC chair; Rep. James McClendon, Jr., OD, from Alabama; Rep. James Beverly, OD, from Georgia; Sen. David R. Heitmeier, OD, from Louisiana; Mitch Munson, OD, AOA president; Sen. David Parker, OD, from Mississippi; Sen. David Curtis, OD, from North Carolina; Rep. Deborah A. Long, OD, from South Carolina.