Optometrists urge Newsom to sign bill to expand eye care

ByMartha R. Camara

Sep 10, 2022

By MADISON HIRNEISEN

THE CENTER SQUARE

(The Center Square) – Health officials and optometrists are asking Governor Gavin Newsom to sign a bill on his desk that would allow qualified optometrists to perform certain advanced procedures, a measure that supporters say will improve the access to eye care for all Californians.

Assembly Bill 2236, sponsored by Assemblyman Evan Low, would allow optometrists certified to treat glaucoma to perform certain other advanced procedures if they meet other education and training requirements.

Specifically, the bill would allow optometrists who obtain additional certifications and training to use certain types of lasers to treat and remove skin tags or non-cancerous lesions smaller than five millimeters.

The bill comes as Californians across the state wait months for specialized eye care treatment, as eye care can be difficult to access for many patients. Thirteen of California’s 58 counties have no ophthalmologists, six counties have only one ophthalmologist, and two counties have two ophthalmologists, according to a press release from the California Optometric Association.

Health officials say it will help address the ‘crisis level’ of limited specialty eye care and increase access to treatment for many Californians by allowing optometrists who receive additional training and certification to perform procedures. minimally invasive.

“We have the pieces in place to increase access — optometrists are there, optometrists are ready, optometrists are trained,” Jeffrey Garcia, optometrist and member of the California State Board of Optometry, told reporters Thursday. “We just need the governor to sign this bill to give us that opportunity.”

Dr. Garcia, who practices in Kings County in California’s Central Valley, said it’s been “extremely difficult” for patients to access eye care, especially Medi-Cal recipients. . Dr. Garcia said Kings and Tulare counties do not have eye doctors who accept Medi-Cal, leaving one eye doctor who accepts Medi-Cal in Fresno County to see more than 600,000 patients in their health service area.

If Governor Newsom signs this bill, California will join 10 other states that allow optometrists to use lasers and 17 other states that allow them to remove skin tags. Officials said Thursday that optometrists in other states are already performing all of the procedures included in the bill.

The bill was opposed by the California Medical Association as it progressed through the legislature, despite changes made to require optometrists seeking certification for advanced procedures to perform at least 43 complete surgical procedures on living human patients.

“While the latest amendments increase the number of required surgeries to 43, this number is well below the clinical training requirements of ophthalmology residency programs,” the CMA wrote in opposition.

Proponents argue, however, that the law would “implement the highest standards in the nation for training and certifying optometrists before they can perform these procedures,” John Flanagan, dean of the Herbert Wertheim School of Optometry & Vision Science at UC Berkeley. .

“The bottom line is that AB 2236 will help patients access the care they need,” Dr. Flanagan said. “As Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Optometry, I can confidently say that the education measures in the bill protect the quality and safety of this care.”

Supporters of AB 2236 said Thursday they hoped the bill would get Governor Newsom’s signature. The measure is among hundreds of bills currently on Governor Newsom’s desk with a September 30 deadline for signing.