AOA leadership reinforced the invaluable benefits that the AOA delivers to its members on Thursday, as affiliates’ delegates convene for official business in the AOA House of Delegates.
In his address to delegates at the 125th Annual AOA Congress during Optometry’s Meeting® in Chicago, AOA Executive Director Jon Hymes spoke to the strong state of the organization, its high standing among members, the profession and the American public, and future opportunities for growth and continued advocacy.
Citing a March 2022 consumer survey, Hymes noted that over three-quarters of surveyed Americans responded that they have more confidence in an eye doctor who is an AOA member, and among those who had visited a doctor of optometry within the past two years, 80% expressed more confidence in an AOA member.
“The AOA brand is strong and it is a tremendous member benefit,” Hymes said. “Our priorities are moving forward, our support is growing, our influence is increasing, our leaders are bold, decisive and highly accomplished. Optometry is advancing.”
Among those achievements in 2021-22, Hymes noted:
- The profession’s latest era of historic scope expansion. In recent months, Virginia and Colorado both solidified significant scope expansions to include optometric laser procedures, bringing the total number of states with such scope laws to 10. These achievements mark the second time in as many years that multiple states passed such contemporary practice legislation.
- Putting insurers and plans on the defensive. A growing AOA alliance with the American Dental Association and key, bipartisan stakeholders on priority legislation, the Dental and Optometric Care (DOC) Access Act continues to gain momentum. The joint AOA on Capitol Hill and Payer Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C., in April 2022, demonstrated that optometry’s voice is strong on Capitol Hill.
- Advocating for the profession with federal agencies. The AOA continues to push federal officials to investigate plan denial patterns, systematic downcoding and other interference in the doctor-patient relationship to ensure doctors can practice unencumbered by these payer challenges.
- Building public affinity and awareness for optometric care. Hymes noted the overwhelming success of the AOA’s Eye Deserve More Campaign in directly increasing traffic to the AOA’s find-a-doctor tool by 13% year-over-year with 91,000 views. The campaign helps connect American families to AOA member doctors and bolsters awareness for the need of routine, comprehensive eye care, while countering harmful misinformation about subpar care.
- Exposing Hubble Contacts’ business practices. The AOA, state affiliates and members achieved a significant advocacy victory in early 2022 when federal officials validated concerns over Hubble Contacts. The Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission announced a record $3.5 million penalty and strict monitoring requirements to settle a federal complaint that Hubble Contacts (Vision Path, Inc.) deceived customers and “flouted” consumer protections. Only recently, the Texas State Attorney General’s Office also levied civil penalties against Hubble Contacts as part of a deceptive trade practices settlement.
- Countering online eye tests. Hymes noted that after years of sustained advocacy to counter the harmful narrative about online vision tests, Visibly (Opternative) — already subject to a Food and Drug Administration recall—continues to face calls for further enforcement actions.
- Full recognition of optometric care. Finally, Hymes emphasized how the Department of Veterans Affairs, representing the nation’s largest health care system, fully recognizes optometric care and allows veterans to receive the advanced eye health care procedures they need from doctors of optometry.
“In a diverse and changing profession, through difficult, divided and hyper-partisan times in our country, through historic economic disruption, stagnation and inflation, through rapid advances in health technologies, through practice acquisitions, consolidation and new care models, through battles with those who would diminish, deny and derail this profession, AOA members are unified in at least one key regard: In overwhelming numbers, they support, believe in and want to be connected to their state and national organizations,” Hymes told delegates.
While emphasizing the AOA’s already strong membership, Hymes noted that redoubled efforts to reach nonmembers through a sustained, consistent dialogue will continue through AOA’s membership campaign, United in Possibilities. These efforts will support and bolster states’ specific outreach programs, in collaboration and coordination with state associations. Additionally, the AOA continues discussions about the importance of membership with large practice groups.
Hymes noted three leading organizations to make 100% commitment to full state association and AOA membership, including:
- Keplr Vision
“This is the new standard, and we’re absolutely in discussions with other groups urging them to make this type of commitment to a strong profession,” Hymes said.
AOA working to ‘overcome restrictions, cancellations and uncertainty’
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Building on Hymes’ morning remarks on the state of the association, AOA President Robert C. Layman, O.D., delivered an address to delegates where he recapped his “vision” for optometry as originally outlaid in his presidential speech at Optometry’s Meeting 2021; namely, successfully equipping and inspiring doctors to practice full-scope, contemporary eye and vision care, preparing the next generation of 21st century advocates to be better leaders in their spheres of influence, and building understanding and respect for optometry’s vital contribution to nation’s health among the public and health policy decisionmakers.
“How did we do? Well, your team AOA worked tirelessly to overcome restrictions, cancellations and uncertainty to deliver championship-quality results,” Dr. Layman said.
Among those results, Dr. Layman noted:
- Delivery of impactful resources to optometry practices. The AOA continued the series of highly watched #AskAOA webinars on topics ranging from instructions for COVID-19 aid forgiveness and the No Surprises Act, as well as coding and billing for new telemedicine and other coding strategies. Additionally, Dr. Layman noted the overhaul of the AOA’s EyeLearn Professional Development Hub, which offers an online database of contemporary optometric education and paraoptometric skill-building courses.
- Federal advocacy for continued optometric practice success. Dr. Layman emphasized the AOA’s advocacy and alliance-building with the DOC Access Act, efforts to press for enforcement of nondiscrimination with the Department of Labor, successful third-party intervention to stop Aetna’s downcoding and inappropriate withholding of reimbursements, as well as advocating to avert a planned, 10% Medicare fee cut at the end of 2021 and the federal settlement against Hubble Contacts. “We are succeeding proactively, not just protecting our profession but propelling it into the future,” he said.
- Historic scope expansion efforts. Dr. Layman noted that with 10 states now affirming doctors’ of optometry scope for contemporary laser procedures, the profession is “certainly at a tipping point.” He added that the AOA has found success working with the VA on National Practice Standards to be implemented in their upcoming EHR project that promote practicing at the highest level of scope. “The AOA Board paved the way for this advancement in 2018 when we launched the Future Practice Initiative, and we know we are poised for more wins in the coming years,” he said.
- Building key partnerships. The AOA continues to work closer than ever with the National Optometric Association and its student organization on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Additionally, AOA launched an Advocacy Roundtable to partner with leading practice groups invested in the profession’s priorities and support AOA membership, as well as build partnerships with industry representatives.
- Bolstering public outreach. Dr. Layman extolled the success of the Eye Deserve More campaign in the past year and as it continues into 2022 with a messaging focus on digital screen time and video gaming. “We are sharing doctor and patient stories that are relatable in our outreach to the public and bringing them in to understand who doctors of optometry are and what we do,” Dr. Layman said. “This is what we have wanted all along and our new outreach to gamers and their world will be a perfect fit for our message.”
He added: “Through it all, AOA has provided resources, along with hope and a vision for the future. We’ve protected it. Now let’s shape it. Our essential and expanding role in the health care landscape will continue to require fighting burdensome regulations like good faith estimates and antiquated prescription verification requirements.”
In closing, Dr. Layman encouraged delegates to help elevate colleagues into leadership positions and build the future of the profession: “There’s more gas in the tank to participate in AOA’s bright future! Let’s keep the momentum in the year ahead.”
House of Delegates recognizes Virginia executive director
Bo Keeney of the Virginia Optometric Association (VOA) was honored with the 2022 Virgil Deering Award for executive director of the year. Keeney was an integral part of passing Virginia’s recent scope advancement bill, as well as providing key leadership development and strategic planning for the VOA. He will become president of the International Association of Optometric Executives in 2022.
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