Eye surgeons in North Carolina are stepping up their opposition to a bill that would allow optometrists, who lack the medical training of ophthalmologists, to perform some procedures that they are currently not permitted to.
Both sides have lined up lobbyists, and the ophthalmologists have tapped a public policy firm to conduct a poll, which was released Tuesday at a news conference by the N.C. Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons.
The poll results show overwhelming opposition to House Bill 36. The bill by Rep. Justin Burr, a Republican from Albemarle, would allow optometrists — who currently do eye exams and eyeglasses prescriptions — to perform four procedures they currently can’t. It excludes 18 procedures but does not address hundreds of other procedures that ophthalmologists say could be performed.
The four procedures are: two laser procedures for glaucoma, one type of laser surgery for cataracts and removal of benign lesions around the eyes.
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Optometrists say expanding optometrists’ role would help people who live in areas with few or no ophthalmologists.
A contingent of physicians from the state’s medical schools and Dr. Cynthia Bradford, the president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, joined the news conference. Bradford is from Oklahoma, which along with Louisiana and Kentucky, are the only states with expanded optometrist laws.
Also at the news conference was Rep. Gregory Murphy, a urologic surgeon and Republican from Greenville.
"The eye is one of the most sensitive organs in the body," Murphy said. "As a physician and a surgeon, I cannot stand for and I will stand against any legislation that could compromise the quality of care in our beloved state of North Carolina."
Adrianne Drollette, executive director of the N.C. Optometric Society, spoke to reporters afterward.
“The optometrists are health-care providers just like ophthalmologists,” Drollette said. “They take the treatment and care of their patients just as seriously. They certainly don’t want to do anything that they’re not trained and capable of doing.”