A new law enacted during the 2023 legislative session reverses decades of state law and practice by prohibiting optometrists from using the term “optometric physician.” Inexplicably, these physicians will now be subject to felony prosecution for using the term to describe their practices. What gives?
It can’t be the lack of education and training.
Doctors of Optometry undergo a minimum of eight years of education, beginning with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, biology or physics and four additional years of professional graduate education and clinical training to achieve a Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree.
The OD degree includes the study of optics, pharmacology, vision science, human anatomy, human physiology, ocular and general pathology, and vision science. Among the most important courses are those for the diagnosis, management, and treatment of all manner of vision disorders and eye diseases. Before they can practice, ODs must also pass the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam and be licensed by the state in which they practice. Many ODs also go on to complete residencies in specialized eye care fields such as geriatric optometry, ocular disease, and pediatric optometry.
It also can’t be abuse of practice.
Thirty-three years ago, the Board of Optometry permitted Florida optometrists to use the term “optometric physician.” Many optometrists have used the title since that time and no consumer complaints have been noted confusing the identity of an optometric physician with an ophthalmologist.
Florida allows non-MD/DO providers, including podiatrists and chiropractors, to use the term "physician” but has now selectively banned the use of that term by optometrists. Even some ophthalmologists have voiced concerns that SB 230 unfairly discriminates against optometrists.
Cui bono or “Who benefits?”
This Latin term embodies the principle that probable responsibility for an act or event lies with one having something to gain. In this case, certainly not the residents of Florida. As the primary eye care provider for most Floridians, more than 3,300 optometrists across the state advance the quality, availability, and accessibility of primary eye care and related health care of Florida's citizens. We provide this invaluable service at a time when access to care is becoming increasingly difficult due to staggering population growth and virtually no increase in the number of practicing ophthalmologists.
Against Sound Public Policy
Criminalizing the professional status of ODs has nothing to do with what we do or how well we do it and has everything to do with limiting competition and, ultimately, access to affordable care. Yet, that is the exact opposite of sound public policy.
In late 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services published a report that outlined reforms the government should take to deliver optimal care to Americans, including realizing new health care choices for the public and identifying barriers on federal and state levels to market competition. Notably, that report specifically stated that Doctors of Optometry can provide the same services as other physicians and stressed “states should consider changes to their scope of practice statues to allow all health care providers to practice to the top of their license, utilizing their full skill set.”
A recent study shows that Americans would save at least $4.6 billion annually if states modernized their optometric scope of practice acts to a level commensurate with optometry's advanced education and training. This is in addition to the $600 million per year in transaction cost savings and another $4 billion per year in savings associated with access-related improvements in health outcomes. Moreover, the data show that Americans overwhelmingly support and trust Doctors of Optometry to provide for the full range of their eye health and vision care needs.
With 96 percent of Americans reporting that access to eye health and vision care is an essential priority, second only to overall access to primary care (97 percent), only patients will suffer from this draconian law. Florida should be focused on meeting patient needs rather than restricting their access to care. This law does the opposite and should be repealed.