Optometry's Meeting

Optometry's Meeting

June 23, 2011
2 min read

AOA commemorates 25 years of optometry's inclusion in Medicare

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SALT LAKE CITY — The American Optometric Association celebrated the 25-year anniversary of optometric reimbursement under Medicare by inviting a few optometrists who were instrumental in obtaining this privilege to speak before the House of Delegates at Optometry's Meeting.

"In 1986 Congress passed its budget reconciliation bill. Included in the bill was a long-sought change in Medicare, allowing payment for vision services provided by optometrists if the services were already covered when furnished by a medical doctor," AOA outgoing President Joe E. Ellis, OD, told attendees.

David W. Ferris, OD, was AOA president when Congress approved patient equity under Medicare.

"In the 1960s, optometry was a drugless profession," Dr. Ferris told the delegates. "But in March 1969, Dr. Alden Haffner, then executive director of the New York Optometric Center and very involved in public activities, was a keynote speaker at the New England College of Optometry. He said optometry must do more in diagnosis and utilize the pharmaceutical agents available to enhance patient care. This was important to the optometric cause to be included in Medicare, because the Social Security Administration made it clear that they would not pay for duplicate services.

"Three years later, Rhode Island became the first state to legislate the use of pharmaceuticals," Dr. Ferris continued. "In 1984, West Virginia was the first state to enact a law authorizing ODs to prescribe drugs to treat diseases or conditions of the eye. In my opinion, the foresight of the West Virginia optometrists was a catalyst for optometric inclusion in Medicare."

Dr. Ferris noted that the efforts to gain inclusion in Medicare were supported by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the American Public Health Association.

"There are still battles to be won, but imagine how hard those battles would be if we weren't included in Medicare, the largest insurer in the country," he concluded.

As Dr. Ellis recognized Dr. Ferris as a pioneer, Dr. Ferris received a standing ovation from the AOA House of Delegates. "The passage of Medicare legislation has been recognized as an all-time high of the optometric profession," Dr. Ellis said.

In 2009, about 30,000 optometrists were enrolled in the Medicare program, Dr. Ellis said. "Optometrists earn $866 million from Medicare programs. In 2010 the estimated amount will be about $850 million. Who this really had an impact on were the seniors across the nation. They were able to have the freedom to select an optometrist without being penalized by an unfair and discriminatory system."

An AARP representative from Utah also spoke to the delegates, stating that 39 million seniors were covered under Medicare in 1986. "Before 1986, residents would have to travel long distances at extra expense to receive care from an ophthalmologist that they could have gotten from an optometrist," he said. "Many would forego treatment altogether because they didn't have the resources. Now more residents have access much closer to their homes and enjoy continuity of care and better quality of life."