A Sacramento Bee editorial suggested that Senate Bill 622, which would allow specially trained doctors of optometry to administer immunizations and perform minor medical procedures, would enable optometrists to perform major surgery (“Facing hard choices on health bills,” July 7).
But this so-called surgery is extremely limited, amounting to removing skin tags and tiny lumps and bumps outside the eye of 5 millimeters or less, the size of a tiny red ant. This is not anything that consumers would view as surgery by any reasonable standard.
Physicians’ representatives testified in the Senate Business and Professions Committee that this legislation poses no risk to consumers. The fear-mongering that a scalpel is being wielded recklessly is irresponsible.
SB 622, by Sen. Ed Hernandez, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, is carefully crafted to enable optometrists to use their extensive training to help an overwhelmed health system. One-fourth of America’s physicians are age 65 or older, and our rural communities and inner cities are desperate for health care providers.
Often, optometrists are the only medical provider patients see, particularly in rural and poor urban areas where primary care doctors are in short supply. New physicians are not opening family practices in disadvantaged areas, instead opting for “concierge” practices in wealthy areas. Optometrists are responsible for 81 percent of eye care covered under Medi-Cal.
This bill would allow optometrists to perform minor laser procedures to treat glaucoma and similar conditions, remove tiny lesions on the eyelid and provide vaccinations to adults for influenza, herpes and pneumonia. It requires the most extensive training in the country, by almost double. SB 622 also requires optometrists to follow the same standards as pharmacists to offer flu, shingles and pneumococcus immunizations for adults.
If SB 622 becomes law, patients can get care they need faster, without multiple appointments with different providers and long wait times. The doctor shortage is real, and Californians deserve better.
The Senate approved SB 622 by a resounding and bipartisan 33-4 vote. It is time for health care providers to stop fighting each other and work collaboratively to take a stand for California patients.
Bill Howe is executive director of the California Optometric Association.