Posted by: Crystal | November 3, 2009

AOA Leaders at White House

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This message was posted to members of America’s Vision, Optometry’s Future on Facebook.

A special message from AOA President Randolph Brooks, O.D. and President-elect Joe Ellis, O.D.:

The battle in Washington, D.C., over national health care reform is intensifying, but the events of the past few days do clearly show just how hard and how effectively the AOA is fighting for every OD and every patient in the corridors of the U.S. Capitol and even the meeting rooms of the White House. With the stakes for our practices and our profession so high, we’re sending you this special update from the frontlines…

On Friday, we traveled to Washington to provide a special briefing to the President’s advisers in the White House Office of Health Care Reform. Please take a moment to watch our video report from the White House grounds (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJfOz2QuH18).

We specifically outlined optometry’s expanding role as providers of primary care and as a key access point for essential health care services for tens of millions of Americans. We discussed ways to expand patient access to eye and vision care, particularly for America’s children, our all-out fight on Capitol Hill to ensure that provider non-discrimination safeguards are a foundation of health care reform and the importance of full recognition of ODs in federal health programs.

Also, we took the opportunity to personally deliver to the White House a letter to President Obama ( http://www.magnetmail.net/images/clients/AOA_/attach/DOC007.pdf)sent on behalf of every AOA member urging him to support us on the provider non-discrimination issue and to help our allies in Congress ensure that health plans will no longer be able to restrict access to care by discriminating against us on the basis of our license.

Just the day before, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a massive – nearly 2,000 pages – health care reform bill (H.R. 3962) that was based on three different bills that were approved by committees over the summer and early fall. Fortunately, our AOA Federal Keypersons and other concerned ODs and students from across the country as well as our Washington office team have been monitoring this legislation for months and speaking out at key moments in support of AOA-backed amendments that were under attack by organized medicine and the health insurance industry.

It’s clear to us that H.R. 3962 will be debated and voted on by the House of Representatives over the next few days. No matter how any of us may feel about national health care reform and the scope, nature and cost of the proposals that the president and congressional leaders have been developing in order to expand health insurance coverage to uninsured Americans, each one of us can review H.R. 3962 and be proud of the impact the AOA is having in Washington, D.C., at this critical moment. Here are key AOA-backed provisions included in H.R. 3962:

–AOA-backed Ross Amendment (Rep. Mike Ross D-Ark.)- Sec. 238. State prohibitions on discrimination against health care providers. Ensures that state laws that prohibit health plans from discriminating against optometrists and other health care providers based on licensure are not preempted.

–AOA-backed Inclusion of Children’s Vision as an Essential Health Care Benefit – Sec. 222. Essential benefits package defined. Health coverage marketplaces within states – exchanges – are established for the uninsured or potentially uninsured to secure coverage. Qualified health plans will be required to meet specific benefit standards deemed essential, including “well-baby and well-child and oral health, vision, and hearing services, equipment, and supplies for children under 21 years of age.”

–AOA-backed Schakowsky Amendment (Rep. Jan Schakowsky D-Ill.) – Sec. 1726A. Requiring coverage of services of optometrists. Requires state Medicaid programs to cover services furnished by optometrists to the extent permitted under state law. This provision inserts the Medicare definition of ODs as physicians into the federal Medicaid statute.

–AOA-backed Extension of Medicare Surety Bond Exemption for Eyeglasses – Sec. 1147. Durable medical equipment program improvements. Exempts suppliers of eyewear from the surety bond requirement.

Still, this battle is far from over, and these AOA-backed provisions are far from secure. The Senate is at work finalizing its own version of health care reform and other AOA-backed provisions are being considered there. Still weeks away is a likely Senate-House conference that will produce a unified bill for final consideration in both chambers. It’s notable that right now, neither the House nor Senate are certain how to stop the coming cuts – 21 percent in 2010 and even larger in 2011 – in Medicare physician payments. This is a huge problem and the clock is continuing to tick.

Also, we must recognize that even after a health care reform bill is enacted into law, there will be many implementation decisions – including defining what a new vision benefit for kids will consist of – that will be left to federal agencies and panels. Clearly, the AOA will need to be as vigilant and fully engaged in the regulatory arena as we have worked to become in the legislative arena.

That’s why it’s more important than ever for doctors, students and even our patients to speak out on our issues when the AOA issues our next “call to action” alert from our Washington office. Also, it’s more important than ever to invest in AOA-PAC ( http://www.aoa.org/x4827.xml) and to commit to serving as an AOA Federal Keyperson (http://www.aoa.org/x4826.xml).

Today, with some of our priorities advancing on Capitol Hill and our useful dialog with the White House continuing, we can see the benefits of having our hard-earned seat at the table in Washington, D.C. Now, let’s all work together to make it a permanent seat that will ensure that optometry continues to be a force in our nation’s capital.

Sincerely,

Randolph E. Brooks, O.D.
AOA President

Joe Ellis, O.D.
AOA President-elect

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