Senate bill lowers standard of eye care

Optometrists have come to the legislature hoping to pass Senate Bill 110, which would allow them to perform eye surgery. They aren't trained to do it and, in fact, they do not know how to use a stethoscope, much less admit patients to your local hospital.

Yet, they came to Frankfort with pockets full of cash and are attempting to buy a medical degree.

Eye physicians and surgeons attend four years of medical school and three to seven years in residency training and fellowship programs to reach the point that they are qualified to perform surgery. That training affords them the ability to understand the effects of eye surgery on other organs in the body and effectively manage complications that will arise.

Optometrists want to be granted that authority with the stroke of the legislature's pen.

In addition to performing eye surgery, SB 110 would authorize optometrists to inject drugs into the eye, including narcotics. The bill also, painstakingly, identifies procedures that optometrists could not perform with a scalpel, then makes a 360 degree turn and affords the optometry board the "sole authority" to determine what procedures they can perform with a laser. If the bill passes, even the legislature would be hard pressed to trump the board's power.

SB 110 is bad medicine, and it comes with a price tag of nearly $1 million. The Kentucky Registry of Election Finance indicates that in the past 18 months, optometrists and their association have made close to $500,000 in campaign contributions, and starting Monday, you are likely to start seeing the more than $200,000 in TV commercials they have purchased to pay for this bill.

Political spending is no way to determine the quality of care patients receive in the commonwealth.

Optometrists claim that a reason for the bill is that in many rural areas Kentuckians lack access to needed eye surgery and care. Ironically, my eye physician colleagues tell me that operations on the eye are decreasing and that the more than 250 eye surgeons statewide are capable of handling the patient load. Bottom line, few Kentuckians are clamoring for more eye surgery.

Optometrists also point to Oklahoma, the only state where optometrists perform laser surgery. What they fail to tell you is that optometrists have been sued there for mistakes and that 25 other states have rejected the concept.

SB 110 lowers the standard of care for Kentuckians. It allows less than adequately trained health professionals to perform eye surgeries. Even though I am not an eye physician, I can see this is a bad bill for health care in Kentucky and urge citizens to tell their legislators to reject it.