Stopping the Optometric Surgery Bill

For the 4th installment of an in-depth look into each of the Medical Association’s “Top 10 Highlights” from the 2022 regular session, we will look at the Association’s opposition to allowing optometrists the ability to perform eye surgeries using scalpels and lasers as well as performing eye injections. 

Outgoing Senator Jim McClendon, an optometrist himself and chairman of the Senate Healthcare Committee, partnered with former Senate Pro Tem President Del Marsh to attempt to pass the optometric surgery bill. The bill would have allowed optometrists, who have not been trained in eye surgery, to perform surgeries and injections on the eye and would have given the Alabama Board of Optometry the sole power to define and regulate what is considered to be the practice of optometry. 

In the Senate, the bill was “passed” out of committee on a voice vote called by Sen. Jim McClendon despite opposition from the majority of other Senators on the Senate Healthcare Committee.  Weeks later, in the Upper Chamber, the bill was allowed to be voted on the Senate floor where after a few hours of contentious deliberation, the bill passed 17-12 and moved on to the House of Representatives.  

In the House, the bill was placed in the House Health Committee where the optometry group, including optometrists, inundated the State House on a regular basis – lobbying legislators and also bringing down many optometry students from UAB to fill the halls of the Legislature.  In the last month of the 2022 Regular Session, the Medical Association who partnered with the Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology and Alabama Dermatology Society throughout the Session, made countless phone calls, sent numerous emails and came to the State House to express the dangers this bill poses to patients in Alabama.  By the last two weeks of the Regular Session, an ophthalmologist was at the State House every day speaking with legislators against the legislation. On one of the last days of the Regular Session, the bill had a public hearing where ophthalmologists spoke against the legislation and the bill ultimately failed because the legislation was not seconded for a vote in Committee during the public hearing.

The Association would like to thank the many ophthalmologists and dermatologists who volunteered their time to come down to the State House, make phone calls and send emails to legislators.  The Medical Association’s grassroots effort against this bill was a big success and without this value of advocacy this dangerous “scope creep” bill may have become law.  The Association fully expects to see this bill filed again in the 2023 Regular Session and we will continue to work with Lawmakers in ensuring that patient safety be held to the highest standard of quality care in Alabama.  

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