Grassroots Efforts Pay Off


AOA Achieves Victory for Optometry on Opposing 1-800 Efforts and Urging a Medicare Payment Fix

Optometry achieved two key legislative objectives during the final hours of the "lame-duck" session of the 109th Congress, halting the scheduled 2007 Medicare fee cut and maintaining contact lens prescription safeguards in the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act of 2003.

The Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 was approved by the House on Dec. 8 and the Senate on Dec. 9. AOA worked with concerned members of Congress and other physician groups to avert the scheduled 5 percent across-the-board cut in Medicare physician payments resulting from the flawed sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula.

AOA Advocacy Group volunteers, Keypersons, grassroots activists and the AOA Washington Office team had been actively working on Capitol Hill to reach a successful conclusion through several months of difficult negotiations.

At the same time, the AOA Advocacy Group had been working to counter a multi-million dollar lobbying blitz by the internet contact lens industry for nearly two years. The proposed legislation, deemed unnecessary by FTC spokespersons and many contact lens manufacturers, sought to require any contact lens distributed in eye care practices to also be sold through "alternative" methods of distribution like buying clubs or online retailers. Eight similar bills had failed in state legislatures this year, as well as a federal bill introduced in March.

In the final days of the "lame-duck" session of the 109th Congress, the AOA Advocacy Group uncovered an attempt to attach this provision to a Senate bill designed to combat illegal methamphetamine use.

While AOA staff mobilized on Capitol Hill to alert legislators about this "channels of distribution" legislation, AOA members responded to an emergency e-mail from AOA, urging members to contact their legislators about the bill. Many lawmakers reported a flood of calls to their offices from optometrists, and at least three senators were concerned enough to place holds on the bill, resulting in the removal of the "channels of distribution" amendment.

The buzz generated through AOA-member opposition to the "meth" bill carried over when the amendment was attached to a bill intended to improve the health of premature babies later in the same day. The prompt opposition voiced by Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), John Dingell (D-MI), Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) forced a voice vote on the House floor and defeat of that version of the bill. A "clean" version of the "Preemie Act" was approved just before the House and Senate adjourned.

*AOA accomplished two significant objectives in the closing hours of the 109th Congress, helping to halt drastic rollbacks in Medicare physician payments and defeating efforts to soften patient protections in FCLCA.