After tussling with big box stores and their lackies in the Oklahoma Legislature, optometrists have evidently gotten a compromise they could live with.
On the 2018 ballot was State Question 793, a measure that quickly garnered negative attention from eye doctors - including those who teach at the Northeastern State University Oklahoma College of Optometry. Some of those professors don't just train up the next generation of optometrists, but they also practice themselves. And as one of only 23 optometric training schools in the nation, NSUOCO's collective opinion should matter very much.
SQ 793 was roundly rejected by voters, because they saw it for what it was: A transparent attempt by certain mammoth corporations to encroach upon this particular aspect of the medical profession. On the surface, it might have looked like a positive move for consumers, aimed at lowering prices of eye care. But the underlying goal was to allow big box stores to hire their own "optometrists," which would operate under their umbrellas rather than any organizations designed to ensure quality and safety. Profit, not customer service, was the motive.
But Senate Bill 100, signed last week into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt, is a good compromise. Authored by State Rep. Carl Newton, an optometrist, it allows legitimate optometrists to rent office space in a big box store, if they so choose, but they cannot be employees of the retail outlet. On the other hand, it strikes a state law prohibiting the sale of eyewear in "non-medical, retail settings." This is where customer choice - and possibly savings - can come into play.
The most positive aspect of SB 100 is one demanded by eye doctors, and rightly so. It contains strong protections involving quality of care, patient safety, and the aforementioned independent operations of the physician. A clinic leasing an office from a retail store must be separate from the store, with its own outside entrance, and in fact separate from the store's retail space. And most importantly, the clinic would be wholly owned by an optometric physician who is licensed to practice in Oklahoma.
As far as oversight, that would not belong to the money-grubbing corporations, but would instead remain with the Board of Examiners in Optometry. The store couldn't restrict or control the doctors' practices, which means another assurance that the highest standards would be maintained.
According to Dr. Selina McGee, president of the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians: "Our primary concern as eye doctors is protecting Oklahoma's very high standards for quality of care and patient safety. To preserve those high standards, optometrists need to be operating independently, free of corporate control or interference."
We agree, and so does NSUOCO. Stitt's inking of the measure was a smart move.