Thursday, February 15, 2018

House passes optometrists' bill to thwart online eye exams by requiring 'real time' consultation with an eye doctor

The state House has passed a bill to restrict the growing practice of online eye examinations, a threat to one of the most powerful lobbies of the legislature: independent optometrists. The Senate may give it a closer exam.

House Bill 191, which passed the House 90-7 on Feb. 13, would require a visit with an eye doctor in "real time" for an eye exam or prescription online. Its sponsor, Rep. Jim Gooch, R-Providence, said in a news release that it aims to keep patients safe. "Companies like Opternative already have doctors sign off on the results and prescription, but not in real time," notes Garrett Wymer of Lexington's WKYT-TV.

Dr. William "Chip" Richardson, a Georgetown ophthalmologist and secretary-treasurer of the Kentucky Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, testified against the bill in committee, saying online assessments can reach people with eye problems that may otherwise go undiagnosed.

"While allowing those online options may hurt his financial bottom line (particularly with his sales of glasses and contacts), the bottom line, he says, is they improve access to care," Wymer reports. "Richardson said he is afraid the bill would essentially run those online options out of Kentucky and hurt some patients' access to eye care."

"The bill also requires someone wanting an online eye exam or prescription to have had an in-person exam in the last two years," Wymer notes. "Richardson said that part of the bill could be helpful."

Gooch told Wymer that his bill does not ban "safe technology," but improves it by requiring real-time interaction between a person and a doctor. On the House floor, he noted that online exams are unregulated in Kentucky.

Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill. She said it would be "burdensome, especially to those with disabilities This effectively shuts down e-commerce."
The other six House members who voted against the bill were Republicans Robert Benvenuti of Lexington, Brian Linder of Dry Ridge, Sal Santoro of Florence, Diane St. Onge of Fort Wright and Scott Wells of West Liberty, and Democrat Susan Westrom of Lexington.

The bill is now in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. "South Carolina's legislature passed a similar bill two years ago," Wymer reports. "The governor vetoed the bill, but it was overridden. Just last month a judge threw out a lawsuit challenging the law."

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