Bill seeks to expand eye care services

All too often, our state is faced with difficult choices about how to provide quality health care to patients, how to improve access in a state faced with a shortage of providers and how to rein in staggering Medicaid costs without cutting services.

Senate Bill 110 provides help with all of those complex and critical needs. It would allow doctors of optometry to provide the latest and best technology to treat their patients in their office, rather than forcing them to make a second appointment to travel to another doctor, many times in another town.

This extra step can result in additional time off work and an extra co-payment for the patient.

It also increases costs to taxpayers because Medicaid patients must see a second doctor and charge transportation costs to the state when they travel to another county for eye care.

By modernizing the law, patients — especially those in rural communities — will be able to depend on their hometown doctor to treat their eye health needs efficiently, effectively and safely.

Optometrists are located in 106 counties across Kentucky. In contrast, two-thirds of the state's counties do not have an ophthalmologist. Under SB 110, the Kentucky Board of Optometric Examiners would have the ability to allow Kentucky optometrists to incorporate new technologies to treat many of the conditions they already manage.

Doctors of optometry have the training and education to provide this treatment now; only outdated laws are holding back quality patient care.

Optometrists complete four years of post-graduate, doctoral-level study concentrating on the eye, vision and associated systemic diseases.

Curricula and continuing education are constantly updated to keep up with all new technologies, including lasers and other medical treatments related to eye disorders.

Since the late 1970s, the legislature has updated and expanded our practice three times. Doctors of optometry have a proven track record of maintaining the highest safety standards for more than 30 years since the first expansion was enacted.

Every state licenses optometrists to perform some type of surgery. Since 1998, Oklahoma optometrists have successfully performed the same procedures allowed in SB 110 with zero complaints to the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Trust the people whose careers rest on scrutinizing safety numbers — insurance actuaries. Optometrists have the lowest malpractice rates of all professionally licensed, doctoral-level health care providers. Malpractice insurance for optometrists in Oklahoma is the same as it is for Kentucky optometrists — about $500 to $600 for $2 million to $4 million in coverage per year.

That's less than most people pay for homeowners' insurance.

Passage of this legislation will benefit the 3 million Kentuckians currently served by doctors of optometry. It would help taxpayers through reduced Medicaid costs because eye care patients will need fewer referrals, fewer multiple office visits and less transportation costs. And the 600,000 newly insured Kentuckians will be helped by convenient access to quality eye care.

Health care issues rarely have solutions that will benefit all patients as well as taxpayers. When Kentucky is facing critical health care provider shortages, citizens who are disproportionately affected by disease, an aging population and budget shortfalls, there is no better time to pass SB 110.