We told you so; Eyeball Wars set to begin anew

eyeball 01.23.17

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Nearly four years have passed since the truce was called in the decades-long “eyeballs war” between Florida optometrists and ophthalmologists.

But with the Legislative Session approaching, that fragile peace seems all but finished.

Optometrists are seemingly going back on their word, working behind the scenes to file legislation to allow them to perform surgery, a proposal that scientific research suggests may not be a good idea.

Several signs indicate optometrists had become progressively uneasy since April 2013, when a compromise was reached after years of lobbying by the Florida Optometric Association (FOA) and Nova Southeastern University’s College of Optometry, which is one of the largest optometry schools in the nation.

House Bill 239, initially applauded by the industry, expanded the scope of practice by allowing optometrists to prescribe a limited number of oral medications and expressly prohibits optometrists from performing surgery “of any kind.,” providing a clear definition of surgery modeled after the guidelines of the American College of Surgeons.

Optometrists also cannot prescribe Schedule I and II controlled substances, and must complete 20 hours of additional training, pass an examination and carry medical malpractice coverage at the same level as medical doctors.

HB 239 also required optometrists to report all adverse medical incidents — the same as ophthalmologists and other practitioners. Optometrists are also mandated to refer patients with severe glaucoma to an ophthalmologist within 72 hours.

Over the past year, however, FloridaPolitics.com has noted a growing push to renew the Eyeball Wars. Representatives for optometrists have been increasingly active, especially in the last election cycle.

For example, the FOA and associated parties have given more than $2.1 million to committees and candidates statewide — and is bolstering its Tallahassee lobbying roster, specifically through Michael Corcoran, brother of current Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

According to state lobbying records, Michael Corcoran will represent some of the biggest players in a renewed Eyeball Wars: the FOA, Nova Southeastern and the Florida Optometry Eye Health Fund. Corcoran is only one of a dozen lobbyists working on behalf of optometrists. In contrast, ophthalmologists only have three.

At the same time, new Speaker Richard Corcoran has ushered in a host of changes for 2017, many which could have a substantial impact on a resurgent Eyeball Wars. No longer can House members text lobbyists during official meetings, enter formal business deals with registered lobbyists or fly on planes owned by lobbyists — which some consider an apparent swipe at highflying groups such as optometrists.

Interestingly enough, the greatest clue that Wars will soon heat up is OD-EYEPAC, the political arm of the Florida Optometric Association.

Last year, OD-EYEPAC gave more than $1.1 million to committees and candidates through July 29. The Florida Optometric Association also gave $535,000; while the Florida Optometric Eye Health Care Fund gave $260,000.

And in his 2016 Legislative Update, FOA chair Dr. Ken Lawson issued the clarion call.

“Our ability to be heard in the Florida Legislature could not be more paramount to the success or failure of our profession than in this very moment in time,“ Lawson wrote. “I can assure you the 2017 legislative session will be a pivotal point in the future of Florida Optometry.”

After connecting the dots, it appears organized optometry is going against its word and once again attempting to gain surgical privileges in the state of Florida.

Despite the agreement passed in 2013, optometrists have decided to push for unwarranted expansion of their scope through relationships with lawmakers, not by going to medical school, completing the required four-year residency in ophthalmology, and actually completing a fellowship.

That said, one could only assume that they decided it is easier to buy something than to earn it.

Be warned; nothing has really changed — and the Eyeball Wars will soon begin anew.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.



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