Ophthalmologists win latest battle in long-running ‘Eyeball Wars’

eyeball 01.23.17
Lawmakers OK'd a bill that essentially bans non-medical doctors from using the word 'physician' in ads or with patients.

The 2023 version of the “Eyeball Wars” is officially over, with ophthalmologists coming out on top.

The House on Thursday voted 78-34 to pass SB 230, a top priority for Senate President Kathleen Passidomo.

The bill essentially bans anyone but medical doctors and osteopathic physicians from using the word “physician” in their advertisements and daily interactions with patients.

Dentists, podiatrists and chiropractors, whose underlying governing statute describes them as physicians, will continue to be allowed to call themselves physicians.

The House had tagged an amendment onto SB 230 earlier in the week that would have allowed optometrists to continue to use the word physician. Rep. Ralph Massullo, who sponsored the amendment, said “it’s inclusive, it’s fair, it’s balanced.”

He added, “I’m hoping I don’t ever have to work on this bill again.”

The bill went on to pass the House 111-3, but because of the amendment, the measure had to bounce back to the Senate for approval.

Passidomo indicated Wednesday she was not inclined to accept the amendment.

“Health care practitioners need to call themselves what they are. So, I’ll take a look at what the House did, and we’ll make a decision once I get it,” she said.

On Thursday, the Senate refused to concur with the amendment and sent the bill back to the House which ultimately voted 79-34 to pass the bill.

Meanwhile, bill sponsor Sen. Gayle Harrell told Florida Politics Thursday that the amendment was “classic Eyeball Wars,” the colloquial name for the long-running battle between ophthalmologists, which are medical doctors who specialize in eye care, and optometrists, who hold non-medical doctorates in optometry.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


  • T

    May 8, 2023 at 3:20 pm

    Allowing chiropoand podiatrist and dentist to use the term physician and not allow Optimus absolutely unfair. Optometrist spend the same or more time earning their degrees and are considered primary eye are providers as stated . This is a political . Optometrists currently care for 80% of primary eye are needs.

  • JoAnn Chase

    May 9, 2023 at 12:31 pm

    This bill is ridiculous. My optometrist IS a medical doctor who earned his degree in his field. Have you considered how many people this will negatively affect? What is the underlying motive here?

  • Chase Walker

    May 9, 2023 at 4:48 pm

    The last big ophthalmologist that was purposely supporting bills to hurt optometrist was arrested for FRAUD in Florida. Optometrists provide a checks and balances to the care of patients. Ophthalmologist don’t want that and are doing everything to discredit them.

  • Jake Mathew

    May 10, 2023 at 5:53 pm

    As an advocate for optometrists, I strongly believe that the recently passed bill, SB 230, heavily favors ophthalmologists and restricts the rights of optometrists. It is evident that this legislation is driven by the vested interests of ophthalmologists who seek to control all aspects of eye care to maximize their profits.

    Optometrists play a vital role in providing accessible and affordable eye care services to the community. They are well-trained professionals who are more than capable of handling various minor eye conditions such as foreign body removal and infections promptly and effectively. By allowing optometrists to continue using the term “physician,” patients have the advantage of seeking immediate care from these experts without incurring exorbitant costs.

    The bill’s underlying motive seems to be monopolizing the eye care industry and funneling all patients through ophthalmologists. By doing so, they create a scenario where patients have limited choices and are forced to rely solely on the services provided by ophthalmologists, potentially leading to inflated costs and longer waiting times for treatment.

    Optometrists offer a practical and cost-effective alternative, especially for individuals with minor eye ailments who require swift attention. By allowing them to use the term “physician,” patients can benefit from their specialized knowledge and expertise without having to face financial hardship or bankruptcy.

    It is essential to prioritize the well-being and accessibility of eye care services for patients. The focus should be on fostering a collaborative environment between ophthalmologists and optometrists, recognizing the unique contributions each profession brings to the table. This would ensure that patients receive the most suitable care in a timely and affordable manner, rather than being restricted by monopolistic practices.

    In conclusion, I firmly support optometrists and their ability to use the term “physician” in their practice. Let us strive for a healthcare system that promotes choice, affordability, and quality care for all patients, without being unduly influenced by narrow financial interests.

  • Arun Kaistha

    May 10, 2023 at 11:07 pm

    Ask yourself why Senate President Kathleen Passidomo feels so strongly about this bill to specifically target Doctors of Optometry? Does it have to do with concern for patients or is there a personal agenda here given her father was an ophthalmologist? Stripping the title of physician or doctor from Optometrists will not change the fact we provide most of the primary eye care, including treatment and management of most of the eye conditions that affect the public. Ten states allow Doctors of Optometry to now use lasers. Most optometrists have been prescribing medications, topical and oral, to safely care for our patients for decades. This is an attack on patients not our profession. Most ophthalmologists and optometrists respect each other and work together for the benefit of their patients. A small handful of ophthalmologists might be stuck in the past and keep fighting an imaginary turf war where there is no need. Work together, not against each other, because our goal is the same, which is to help patients meet their eye care needs. I have been a practicing optometrist for 20+ years, and if there is ever a question or confusion over whether I am an optometrist or ophthalmologist, a simple and short conversation with the patient is all that is necessary to explain the difference. By convincing patients we are not physicians or doctors, there will only be negative harm to the public in terms of access to eye care providers and adding to public confusion and mistrust. Shame on those who passed and supported this unnecessary bill. There are more important and serious problems that need attention. It is my belief the sponsors of this bill will eventually come to regret their poor judgement and bad decisions.

    • A A Camblor

      May 13, 2023 at 7:38 pm

      YES. Her father is/was an ophthalmologist. I wander how she got that anti-optometry viewpoint? Classic “well duh”
      Who else would think this ridiculous agenda deserved legislation when there are serious issues to solve in Florida.

Comments are closed.


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