Group says proposed law could damage eye health

A spokesman for a group of optometrists working to keep a state question related to their work from being approved by voters said the proposed constitutional amendment could affect the eye health of many Oklahomans.

Voters will get an opportunity to decide State Question 793 on Nov. 6 during the general election.

It would allow companies, specifically large retailers like Walmart, to determine what tests their optometrists can perform.

Joel Robison, chief executive officer for the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians, told a group of Canadian County Democrats that the proposal is dangerous.

Robison said Walmart has been trying to come into Oklahoma and change the state’s laws related to optometry for several years in an effort to increase their profits.

Up until now, the legislature has said ‘no’ to them,” Roberson said.

However, voters, two years ago, approved legislation that changed who can sell high-point beer and wine. He said Walmart was behind that effort and the victory gave them hope related to the ability to offer optometric services.

“It’s not just about cheap glasses,” Robison said.

He said the proposal could do more damage the good, because the constitutional amendment would allow optometrists and opticians to agree with a retailer to limit their practice.

In other words, Robison said, the retailer could say what type of tests an optometrist can perform in the store.

That means that some tests that are offered, such as a glaucoma test, or a pressure test, might not be offered at a big-box retailer, such as Walmart.

“Oklahoma optometry is a leader. We’re a success story. … Oklahoma optometrists can do many more things than optometrists in many surrounding states can, by law. They can do surgeries on the front part of the eye, they prescribe opioids and other types of drugs for pain. They can diagnose through an eye exam,” he said.

Robison said optometrists can diagnose diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions that might not be caught otherwise.

“We are different. So, when you hear Walmart talk, and they will, they are going to tell you that Oklahoma is an outlier,” he said, adding that Walmart will say there are 47 other states that already allow optometry in retail stores.

However, Oklahoma is the only state where it would be constitutionally-mandated that the retailer could decide what tests are offered.

“Oklahoma optometry is not like all of the other states. We do things differently,” he said.

“We believe that Oklahoma patients should be able to get care at the closest possible access point. We have optometrists in 66 of state’s 77 counties. If you want to see a high-quality optometrist, you don’t have drive more than 20 minutes,” Robison said.

He said if the ballot measure is approved, that is likely to change.

He also voiced concerns that the company’s lower prices could impact the finances of optometrists throughout the state.

“Walmart wants to increase their profits. They believe they will make more money if this passes,” he said.

“Our laws protect patients. They expect the most of their exam,” Robison said.

His other concern is that the law is constitutional, meaning it can’t be changed by the legislature.

Meanwhile, supporters of the legislation, said that the proposal levels the playing field.

Jennifer Stacy, who lives in Morris, said currently Oklahoma law prohibits retails stores from offering optometry services, restricting access to vision care that families in most states enjoy.

Stacy, in a letter to the editor that was published in the Tulsa World, said SQ 793 would make it easier for parents, especially in rural areas, to have access to eye care for their children.

“Proper vision is directly linked to a child’s ability to excel in school, especially for younger students,” Stacy wrote.

She said the state question would allow optometrists to practice in stores, such as Walmart. She said increasing competition would lead to more affordability, more choices and more convenience for families.

Requests for a response from Walmart were not returned.

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