Rushed optometry bill could hurt patients

The swift advance of a bill allowing Kentucky optometrists to perform surgery has been stealthy, slick and greased by greenbacks.

The House should slow down Senate Bill 110 long enough to give the measure a genuine examination, because it could have some terrible unintended consequences, such as injuring patients and increasing health care costs for all.

The supporters of SB 110 tout its cost savings. If optometrists could perform some surgeries, they say, fewer patients would have to travel for treatment by an ophthalmologist, who is a medical doctor and trained eye surgeon, or pay a second co-pay. This would also produce savings for Medicaid.

Lawmakers should ask whether these supposed savings could even come close to equaling the increased costs of optometrists buying lasers and other expensive technology.

Optometrists would feel compelled to do lots of procedures, including unneeded ones, to pay for the expensive new equipment — and that would raise Medicaid costs and health care costs overall.

Plus, innocent Kentuckians, trusting their local "eye doctor," would submit to surgeries that really should be performed only by a physician who's served a medical internship and hospital residency and gained proficiency in the techniques.

Optometrists are fine at what they're trained to do, measuring vision, diagnosing and treating some eye diseases and prescribing corrective lenses.

It was quite clear, though, that the Senate didn't want to hear about any downsides, including the risks to patients.

SB 110 was filed late Feb. 7 and heard with no notice in committee the next morning. On Feb. 11, a few trained eye surgeons were allowed a few words of opposition before the Senate approved it 33-3.

Now the bill is teed up for a rush job through the House while lawmakers remark on its great momentum. When they say momentum, they mean money: Almost three-quarters of a million dollars in political contributions from optometrists since 1997.

We've long known that politicians are blinded by political money. If this bill becomes law, some of their constituents could be, too.