WASHINGTON, April 5, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- The national spotlight was focused squarely on optometry as nearly 500 doctors of optometry and optometry students from around the country converged on Capitol Hill today as the debate continues over the direction of national health care reform. Optometrists urged Congress to protect and expand access to essential optometric eye and vision care for America's families, including veterans, working men and women, children and seniors.
Serving as the culmination of the 2011 American Optometric Association (AOA) Congressional Advocacy Conference, hundreds of AOA members, a record-number of students, as well as representatives of the National Optometric Association (NOA), the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA) and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) convened on Capitol Hill with the goal of raising new awareness of the profession and advancing AOA's pro-access and pro-patient agenda, including:
- Access to Eye and Vision Care – Securing full recognition and inclusion of optometrists in the Medicaid program (HR 1219), the National Health Service Corps program (HR 1195) and other federal health programs.
- Children's Vision – Ensuring that America's children have the tools needed to succeed in school and later in life by fully defining the new children's healthy vision essential benefit as direct access to comprehensive eye exams, follow-up care and coverage for vision correction treatment.
- Medicare – Preserving the Medicare program for current and future beneficiaries by preventing nearly 30 percent in scheduled Medicare payment cuts to ODs and other physicians set to take effect January 1, 2012.
- Patient Choice/Provider Competition – Expanding access to quality health care, providing greater provider choices for patients, and introducing much-needed competition into the health care marketplace by fully implementing key provider non-discrimination safeguards (Harkin Amendment) included within the new health reform law.
- Small Business – Eliminating burdensome federal mandates and reducing regulatory barriers to the success of small business optometry practices and to local job growth, such as the health law's expanded IRS Form 1099 reporting requirement.
- Military and Veteran's Health Care – Ensuring that America's military service personnel and veterans are not forced to wait unnecessarily for the eye and vision care that they need and deserve.
- InfantSEE® – Supporting optometry's vision-saving and potentially life-saving public health and education initiative that offers comprehensive eye and vision assessments for infants at no-cost (www.InfantSEE.org).
Prior to departing for Capitol Hill, optometry's frontline advocates were joined by leading Members of Congress for AOA's Breakfast with Optometry's Champions.
At the event, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) was presented with the 2011 AOA Health Care Leadership Award. In 2009 and 2010, Senator Harkin took on the powerful special interests as he secured passage of the Harkin Patient Access Amendment, which is the first-ever federal standard of provider non-discrimination. Also presented with the 2011 AOA Health Care Leadership Award was AOA member Senator John Boozman, O.D. (R-AR), a longtime champion of key vision and eye health care issues and the only optometrist currently serving in the U.S. Senate.
On Monday, conference attendees were treated to a keynote address delivered by Karen Mills, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and President Obama's top advisor on small business issues. Administrator Mills spoke of the challenges and opportunities now facing optometry practices and other small businesses across America.
Monday evening, as time-sensitive budget negotiations continued, nearly 50 Members of Congress briefly joined AOA for its annual gala held on Capitol Hill to recognize leading lawmakers. And later in the week, the AOA Board of Trustees will host leading Members of Congress in the U.S. Capitol Building for AOA's first-ever, day-long policy solutions roundtable with influential lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
"The size and scope of our 2011 Congressional Advocacy Conference – one of the biggest optometric advocacy events ever - reflects the resolve of this profession and the patients we serve to be listened to and heeded as health care policy decisions are being made in the nation's capital," said Joe Ellis, O.D., AOA president. "We could not be more proud of the doctors and students who have sacrificed to be here in order to put a national spotlight on optometry, on patient access issues and on the importance of eye and vision care in a way that's never been accomplished before."
"Optometry's growing presence and prowess in Washington, D.C. is a direct reflection of the important and ever-expanding role that doctors of optometry play in the delivery of health care in America," said Dori Carlson, O.D., AOA president-elect. "It gives me great hope and high expectations for the future of our profession when I look back over the last few days and count the record number of optometry students here in attendance and the highest-ever direct involvement by leading Members of Congress in this year's AOA Congressional Advocacy Conference."
About the American Optometric Association (AOA):
The American Optometric Association represents approximately 36,000 doctors of optometry, optometry students and paraoptometric assistants and technicians. Optometrists serve patients in nearly 6,500 communities across the country, and in 3,500 of those communities are the only eye doctors. Doctors of optometry provide two-thirds of all primary eye care in the United States.
American Optometric Association doctors of optometry are highly qualified, trained doctors on the frontline of eye and vision care who examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases and disorders of the eye. In addition to providing eye and vision care, optometrists play a major role in a patient's overall health and well-being by detecting systemic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.
Prior to optometry school, optometrists typically complete four years of undergraduate study, culminating in a bachelor's degree. Required undergraduate coursework for pre-optometry students is extensive and covers a wide variety of advanced health, science and mathematics. Optometry school consists of four years of post-graduate, doctoral study concentrating on both the eye and systemic health. In addition to their formal training, doctors of optometry must undergo annual continuing education to stay current on the latest standards of care. For more information, visit www.aoa.org.
SOURCE American Optometric Association