Controversial eye health bill debated at LA Capitol

A controversial eye care bill has passed out of committee at the Louisiana Legislature that would open up the scope of medical procedures optometrists can perform on patients.

The bill on Wednesday, however, was pulled from the House floor by its author, Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe, amid opposition by the state's ophthalmologists.

Hoffman said the measure will be returned to the calendar to be called at a later date.

7News takes a look at what is at stake and why this bill has divided many of those in eye health.

Should optometrists be given privileges for injections and certain surgeries currently limited to ophthalmologists? That is the question at the heart of House Bill 527 and it is a debate that has optometrists and ophthalmologists fighting for their side to be heard.

Optometrist Robert Janot with Vision Source in Sulphur and ophthalmologist Donald Falgoust with Falgoust Eye Medical and Surgical in Lake Charles explain how the bill could change their practices.

"House Bill 527 would allow the Doctors of Optometry, who have already been practicing the diagnosis and treatment of eye disease could continue to do that within the oversight of our Board of Optometry," said Dr. Janot.

The oversight change is what has Dr. Falgoust most concerned.

"We, as physicians, are overseen by the same medical board and this law would change that oversight to allow the optometrists to be overseen by their own board," said Dr. Falgoust.

HB 527 would allow optometrists to perform minor surgeries on the eyelids, give injections, and also administer some glaucoma and cataract procedures. The reason? Only half of Louisiana parishes have ophthalmologists.

"You're providing then two standards of care," said Dr. Falgoust, "one for rural parishes and one for the big cities where you're going to get a lesser trained, not a surgically trained, Doctor of Optometry versus a medical doctor, who's had many more years of training experience."

Dr. Janot said he has seen patients put off seeing an eye doctor because of a distance to travel.

"Many times it's incumbent upon us to have to send our patients elsewhere for simple procedures that we could otherwise perform in office that we are trained to do, however, our state license often prohibits that," he said.

Here is a breakdown of the training differences between these eye care providers.

*Optometrists go through four years of optometry school after getting a bachelor's degree.

*Ophthalmologists go through four years of medical school after undergrad, an internship, then a three year residency.

Dr. Janot said his eye-specific training qualifies himself and other optometrists for a broader range of services to provide. "Our optometry training, like many doctoral programs, enables us to have the tools and qualifications strictly to the eye that we have studied for years," he said.

On the other hand, Dr. Falgoust said medical school teaches ophthalmologists how the entire body plays a role in eye health. "You can't just take the eye and separate it from the body. You can see many diseases through the eye and you learn that in medical school," he said.

Both sides are fighting for access to care, but it is the safety, quality and availability of the care that will determine the success or failure of this eye bill.

The bill specifically excludes LASIK, PRK, cataract surgery and administering general anesthesia by optometrists.

Oklahoma and Kentucky have similar laws. This issue is expected to be debated on the floor Wednesday.

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