A bill broadening the scope of practice for optometrists to include certain procedures currently restricted in Alabama passed the Senate Thursday with two amendments.
The bill, which received broad cross-party support and opposition, would allow the Alabama Board of Optometry to hold the exclusive authority to regulate the expansion of certain practices and require optometrists to provide these procedures to meet certain training benchmarks.
Versions of Senate Bill 120 have been filed and re-filed over the last 10-years, with state Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, an optometrist, being a driving force behind the bill’s survival.
Opposition to the measure stemmed from concerns over the bill’s allowance of optometrists to perform certain eye injections, laser capsulotomy – an eye incision made into the eye’s crystalline lens – and other procedures often performed by ophthalmologists.
“I think we’re setting a dangerous precedent with this bill,” said state Sen. J. T. Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills. “I cannot understand anybody in this body voting to allow one specialty to perform another specialty.”
An increase in care for patients and the allowance of procedures that optometrists train for but are restricted from performing in Alabama are reasons given by the legislation supporters, including primary sponsor state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston.
“These procedures are being taught as people go through that curriculum,” Marsh said, referring to optometry students in optometrist school. “We are training people who are leaving our state, doing these procedures in some 20 plus states.”
Two amendments were brought forward during deliberations: One removes certain sentences, filed by state Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville, and another restricting optometrists from using the word “surgeon” in advertisements or signage in their practice, filed by state Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook.
The bill ultimately passed 17-12 and heads now to a House committee for consideration.
According to statistics provided by the American Optometric Association, doctors of optometry provide more than two-thirds of primary eye health care in America and are more accessible for patients than any other type of eye care professional.