Focus Texas coalition aims to change state's eye care laws
A newly formed state coalition says Texas has the fourth worst access to eye care in the nation and they want to do something about it.
The Texas Optometric Association (TOA) formed Focus Texas – a group of doctors, patients and citizens who are concerned about the state of eye care in Texas.
Focus Texas said Texas’ has archaic laws concerning what services eye care providers can perform.
Texas is 47th in the U.S. for access to eye care. By contrast, its surrounding states have some of the best access with Louisiana being number one, Oklahoma is third, New Mexico is sixth and Arkansas is seventh.
"Texas patients are not being treated fairly by our state's laws. Texas has serious challenges in the delivery of eye care and unreasonably limiting patient's choices - particularly in rural areas - makes no sense," said Dr. Jenny Terrell, Texas Optometric Association president, and Focus Texas board member. "What we want is Texas to catch up to the standards of our surrounding states and empower doctors of optometry to provide the services patients demand. As our population ages, the demand will only increase, and with the number of ophthalmologists decreasing nationally, now is the time to put eye care first and update our laws."
Texas law limits optometrists in performing certain advanced procedures. As the population ages, the need for advanced eye services will be increasing dramatically, while the number of ophthalmologists is dropping in Texas.
Information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates by 2025, the need for advanced eye services will increase by at least 20 percent, just as the ophthalmologist population is decreasing.
In this supply-and-demand report from 2016, a sub-report from the Texas Demographic Center says Texas will be disproportionately affected by this supply/demand issue as the state has the third largest elderly population in the nation and the population is aging faster than the nation as a whole.
The things the coalition are asking lawmakers to consider is very reasonable, they say.
For example, doctors of optometry in Texas do not have the prescriptive authority to prescribe oral antiviral medications.
While an eye doctor could identify a problem - for instance shingles of the eye - that needed an oral treatment, he could not legally prescribe the drug.
In another cumbersome law, an optometrists cannot independently diagnose or treat glaucoma. The doctor must have a specialist look over his shoulder to treat the disease.
This can be costly in both money and time for the patient and providers to have to co-manage a patient’s glaucoma. This is not something that is outside of the scope of what the doctors are trained to do, they just are not allowed to do it.
This new coalition has a long-term plan for change, but for now they are beginning with an effort to bring public awareness to the need for a revision of eye care laws in the state.
The coalition said Texas spends nearly $30 million annually to train doctors of optometry, but over the past five years, about 30 percent of the newly training doctors leave Texas for other states where they can provide more services to patients.
For more information about Focus Texas or to sign the petition to encourage lawmakers to review eye care laws, visit https://www.focustexas.org/.
Claire Kowalick, Wichita Falls Times Record News
Published 12:49 a.m. CT July 30, 2018 | Updated 9:56 a.m. CT July 30, 2018