Optometrists around the state are pooling resources to educate their patients about what they say is a potentially dangerous issue.
According to the website for Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom, the agency is backed by Walmart and is responsible for pushing for the “modernization” of Oklahoma’s alcohol sales laws in 2016. State Question 793 is also supported by OCF and the Oklahoma Retail Merchants Association.
If adopted, SQ 793 would change the language of the state’s Constitution, providing for the removal of income and geographical restrictions allowing for the sale of prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses in retail markets. It would allow optometrists to practice in areas from which they are currently barred by state statute. According to Joel Robison, the Chief Executive Officer for the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians, the language also explicitly states that the amendment would not prohibit optometrists and opticians from agreeing to limit their practice through partnerships with “mercantile establishments.”
Because SQ 793 would amend the Constitution, not create a new law, existing laws regarding the regulation of optometric care would be superseded according to the language on the ballot. In addition to the laws, the amendment would remove the oversight of the Oklahoma Board of Examiners in Optometry, the current official listening agency for the field.
Republican Oklahoma State Rep. Pat Ownbey said “State Question 793 is really about where eye care profits will eventually end up.” Ownbey called this question a battle “that’s been fought at the State Capitol for years.” His opinion, Ownbey said, is that it is about corporate-run optometry, not about quality eye care.
While proponents tout the proposal as reform that will give consumers convenient access to low-cost care, local medical professionals agree that the sales-driven ideals of the big box stores would be detrimental to the overall health of the very Oklahomans the amendment proposes to help. Oklahoma’s optometrists are currently held to some of the nation’s strictest laws regarding the protection and health of their patients. The Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians opposes this initiative unanimously, according to a release from the organization.
According to local optometrist Dr. Denver Rushing, OD, licensed optometrists in the state are ultimately fighting to maintain the standard of care.
“People from other states are jealous that we get to practice in Oklahoma,” Rushing said. Rushing and his colleagues, Drs. Becca Barnes and Bonnie McCarthick, agreed Tuesday evening that the proposed measure is about much more than the availability of cheap glasses.
McCarthick said she is concerned about her patients’ care.
“I have seen more than one misdiagnoses,” McCarthick said. “They can’t catch glaucoma and things like that when all they’re doing is a refraction.”
Rushing said he feels some who go to the retail optometrist clinics may not realize they are not getting a full exam.
“A refraction for a prescription for glasses or contacts is just one small part of a full exam,” Rushing said.
Other medical professionals are concerned about the potential ramifications making a constitutional change to the scope of the medical practice of optometry as well.
“We are all in the same boat,” said Barnes. “We are all concerned about maintaining the quality of our healthcare.”
“Instead of being owned and run by the doctor, the person doing your exam will answer to the corporation, such as a Target or Walmart,” Ownbey said.  “Optometry is specialized eye care and I have no doubt that the quality care I’ve received over the years from my local optometrist can’t be duplicated at Walmart.”
Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom announced last week that they successfully obtained the required number of signatures to include the measure on the November 2018 ballot, however, that has not yet been confirmed. The group would have had to collect signatures equivalent to 15 percent of the number of votes cast for governor in the last election in order to get an initiated constitutional amendment. That number for 2018 is 123, 725.