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BILL targeting Oklahoma optometry procedures

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October 9, 2008


BILL targeting Oklahoma optometry procedures clears legislature


Oklahoma City,OK USA

By The Associated Press

A battle between optometrists and ophthalmologists over the kinds of eye surgery that can be performed in Oklahoma played out in the state Legislature on Wednesday. The House and Senate both approved a bill that would allow optometrists to perform non-laser eye surgeries authorized by the Oklahoma Board of Examiners in Optometry.


Retina, laser in-situ keratomileusis, or LASIK, and cosmetic lid surgery would still be prohibited under the bill.


Passage came despite opposition from ophthalmologists who say only medical doctors should be allowed to perform such procedures.


Ophthalmologists are physicians who are authorized to perform ocular surgery. Optometrists, who attend optometry school but are not medical doctors, are allowed in Oklahoma to perform certain laser eye surgeries.


David Cockrell, president of the Oklahoma State Board of Examiners in Optometry, said the measure was requested because of a recent attorney general's opinion that stated optometrists were not allowed to perform non-laser surgeries. The opinion also said the board didn't have the authority to authorize those procedures.


"We didn't bring this legislation forward in any attempt to expand the scope of practice," Cockrell said. "Because the procedures we already do are termed surgical procedures, we needed put that language in statute so that we can bill for those procedures and receive payment."


Rep. Dale Wells, who supported the bill, said another component of the issue is one of access. He said Oklahoma has 101 licensed ophthalmologists practicing in 18 of the state's 77 counties. By contrast, there are 600 registered optometrists in 72 counties, he said.


Failure to pass the bill "will gut the ability of these people to provide great eye care to the people of Oklahoma."


Ophthalmologists, however, argue that Oklahoma is already the only state in the nation to allow optometrists to perform laser surgery, a policy they oppose.


"It should be of concern to Oklahomans that only in Oklahoma, health care providers who are not trained surgeons are allowed to use lasers to perform delicate eye surgery," said Dr. Cynthia Bradford, secretary for state affairs for the American Academy of Ophthalmologists. "This is an unprecedented policy. It is not in the best interest of patient eye care."


Rep. Odilia Dank, who opposed the bill, agreed.


"Non-laser surgery is surgery with a knife," said Dank, R-Oklahoma City. "The slightest error can do huge damage."


The bill, which passed the House 85-9 and the Senate 40-6, now heads to the governor for consideration.

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