ST. LOUIS—In recent weeks, executives of the American Optometric Association (AOA) have held discussions on “stand-alone” managed-vision plans’ role in health-care reform with both the nation’s largest vision-plan provider and the trade association that represents the vision-insurance industry. Yet the issue remains a hot-button for the managed-vision industry and eyecare practitioners alike.

Jim Short, OD, VSP chairman. 
The AOA ruffled feathers among vision-plan providers late in September when it collaborated with the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) on a joint letter to a senator involved in the health-reform debate. In that letter, the two professional organizations referred to stand-alone vision plans as aiming to “turn back the clock by continuing to segment vision from eye health,” and said such plans are “seeking to impose misguided limits on the care that our patients, especially children, receive.”

Reaction to those statements among vision-plan companies led to an in-person meeting on Oct. 24 between AOA leaders and executives of managed-vision giant VSP Vision Care, as well as a telephone conference on Oct. 27 involving AOA staffers and the board of directors of the National Association of Vision Care Plans (NAVCP), which represents many large vision-plan companies. (VSP is not a primary NAVCP member, although its Eyefinity/OfficeMate division became an allied member of the organization in August.)

Randy Brooks, OD, AOA president. 

A joint statement issued by the AOA and VSP after executives of those two entitites met said “both organizations are committed to expanded access to eyecare,” and that both “recognize the importance of including provider non-discrimination provisions that will safeguard patient access to optometric care in any health-care bill.” The statement noted that additional meetings or calls may be scheduled “whenever necessary to discuss common interests.”

During a press conference in late October, AOA president Randy Brooks, OD, said some statements in the earlier AOA/AAO letter may have been misinterpreted. Brooks said the AOA would “never do anything to compromise existing vision care, noting, “We’re not against stand-alone vision plans.”

Brooks noted, however, that the AOA “feels a medical plan would be preferable to a stand-alone plan in terms of access to patients” by ODs.

He added that the association feels provider “non-discrimination” would be a key element of any health-care plan, saying that patients’ ability to keep their current doctor or insurance plan “is a critical promise made by President Obama.”

After the AOA/VSP meeting, Jim Short, OD, VSP’s board chairman, told VM the company remains committed to working with the AOA on issues regarding OD non-discrimination. “However, we remain concerned about potential negative impacts to stand-alone benefits, and these concerns are not just shared by VSP,” he said.

Short noted that a number of business, union and health-plan groups have sent letters to Congress on the issue, adding, “As varied as these groups are, each is saying the same thing—specialized eyecare plans should continue playing a vital role in the health care system and be specifically protected within the law.”

At VM’s presstime, neither the AOA nor the NAVCP was ready to comment on issues discussed in the Oct. 27 conference call between those two organizations.
—Cathy Ciccolella