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Just when we thought the scope expansion battle in Arkansas couldn't get any hotter, doctors of optometry there are turning up the heat in response to a November ballot measure that would overturn a recent scope of practice law enacted by the state legislature last year.
This heated battle has implications for doctors of optometry beyond the state of Arkansas.
Based on filings with the state ethics commission, the ophthalmologists' group "Safe Surgery Arkansas" surpassed $1 million in monetary contributions from more than 30 states, raised in support of this measure on the ballot in November, that would reverse Act 579 comfortably passed in the 2019 General Assembly.
The act expanded the state's optometric scope of practice act to permit new procedures, including selective laser trabeculoplasty and YAG laser capsulotomy, certain injections (excluding intravenous and intraocular), removal of lid lesions, and chalazion incision and curettage. Additionally, it requires the Arkansas Board of Optometry to establish credentialing requirements for doctors of optometry who perform these laser procedures and to require them to report the outcomes of their procedures to the Arkansas Department of Health.
Similar to existing laws already on the books in Oklahoma, Kentucky and Louisiana, and a law currently being implemented in Alaska, Arkansas' Act 579 is based on successful scope of practice expansions that have reported positive outcomes and expanded patient access without significant changes to doctors' of optometry malpractice rates, which are often based on negative outcomes.
The Arkansas Optometric Association (ArOA) and member doctors have been waging a long, strategic fight and the AOA is strongly countering the ophthalmologists' fundraising with its substantial and immediate financial support. This significant support will help level the playing field for Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, a coalition of doctors of optometry and patients who support the current law.
"They challenge our education. They challenge our patient care. And they have even challenged our ethics and morality," says Matthew Jones, O.D., who practices in Blytheville, Arkansas. "Nothing is off limits to them. But optometrists will fight the good fight and we'll do so while taking care of our patients as we always have."
Arkansas's fight and its outcome may become a blueprint for other scope challenges around the country, says Belinda Starkey, O.D., immediate past president of the ArOA, who practices in Rogers, Arkansas.
"If the law in Arkansas is not upheld, it will be extremely difficult for any other state to achieve optometric scope expansion. This fight could set a precedent that might affect the rest of the profession nationwide," she says.
"Ensuring that state laws advance to meet the level of our training and education has and will always be one of AOA's top priorities," says Barbara L. Horn, O.D., AOA president. "We will not stand quietly by, while the opposition lays out false and egregious attacks, and we will do everything we can together to win this battle for Arkansas and the future of the profession of optometry."