As optometry bill flies through Frankfort, doctors debate its effect

02/18/2011 07:22 PM

Optometrists say expanding the range of procedures they can perform will provide better access to eye treatments for Kentuckians, while eye surgeons say only ophthalmologists with medical training should be allowed to put a knife or laser near patients eyes.

The debate rages on even after both chambers of the state legislature approved a measure to allow optometrists to perform more procedures, including some laser eye surgeries. Senate Bill 110 now heads to the governor.

Ben Gaddie a Louisville optometrist and president-elect of the Kentucky Optometric Association, and Woodford VanMeter, a Lexington-based ophthalmologist and president of the Kentucky Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, went eye-to-eye on Pure Politics Friday.

It came as the bill to expand optometrists’ duties finished its quick trip through the legislature after passing the state Senate 33-3 last Friday and the House 81-14 this morning.

Optometrists currently conduct vision exams and diagnose eye problems, while also fitting patients with glasses. Ophthalmologists, whose ranks include U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, have additional medical school training so they can perform surgeries.

Gaddie said the procedures optometrists would be allowed to do if Gov. Steve Beshear signs the bill are “fairly limited.”

“We’re not going to be doing retinal lasers or corrective eye surgeries,” Gaddie said. “The laser surgeries procedures are mainly to take care of some post-operative cataract problems and some glaucoma issues.”

VanMeter said ophthalmologists believe the optometrists main argument of  allowing more people access to such procedures by opening them up to optometrists “is overrated and has really been concocted for this bill.”

Even with technological advances with equipment such as lasers, VanMeter said medical groups have taken the position that only surgeons with medical training should be allowed to perform such procedures.

The discussion continued as the two doctors talked about the speed in which the legislation worked its way through the legislative pipeline.

“We weren’t intentionally hiding anything … There are no secrets in Frankfort,” Gaddie said.

VanMeter took issue with the ophthalmologists receiving limited time to raise their objections during committee hearings on the bill.

The two also addressed the issue of campaign contributions to lawmakers. Optometrists and their political action committee gave more than $400,000 to lawmakers and their caucus campaign committees as well as to Gov. Steve Beshear, the Courier-Journal’s Tom Loftus reported.


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