Senate quickly passes bill to allow optometrists to perform minor surgical procedures; ophthalmologists say that would be risky

“The Senate approved a bill Friday to allow optometrists to perform some surgical procedures on the eye and eyelid, brushing aside warnings from medical doctors who said optometrists are not qualified and could harm surgical patients,” John Cheves reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Supporters of the bill said it would improve eye services in rural areas.

Prospects for Senate Bill 110 in the House are uncertain, but it passed the Senate 33-3 and optometrists have long been major financiers of legislators’ campaigns. They have given almost $740,000 to state candidates since the Registry of Election Finance began keeping computerized records in 1997, and have won several legislative battles against ophthalmologists, medical doctors who specialize in eye matters.

The bill was filed Monday night and approved by the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee the next day. “After ophthalmologists started calling, the Senate granted them a brief hearing Friday morning to air their complaints, although it did not stop the Senate vote,” Cheves reports. Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, chair of the Health and Welfare Committee, called the process a “kangaroo court” and said, “Just because we have a squeaky wheel doesn’t mean we have to oil it immediately.”

If the bill becomes law, optometrists could “remove lumps and bumps and use lasers to treat a few specified conditions, although they could not perform Lasik corrective surgery or any other procedure requiring general anesthesia,” Cheves reports. “Optometrists told the committee that about two-thirds of Kentucky’s counties don’t have an ophthalmologist, especially in rural areas. . . . Oklahoma passed a similar law in 1998 with no serious problems, they added.”

Oklahoma’s law is the only one like it in the U.S., according to a commenter on the story, identified as “uk1234.” Noting the bill language that would give the state Board of Optometric Examiners “sole authority to determine what constitutes the practice of optometry,” the commenter wrote, “The fox will be in charge of the hen house.” But a commenter named “taxus” replied, “If the training is adequate (long enough to be proficient) and the practitioner trainee is certified by a panel of peers in the licensing body, then it could prove to be a good idea for folks the 2/3 of the counties where these particular procedures are not now available.” (Read more)

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