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Optometrists, ophthalmologists don't see eye to eye on bill

Last Modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013 12:21 AM

By John Guidroz / American Press

A House committee on Wednesday approved legislation that would let optometrists perform certain surgical procedures, despite protests from several licensed ophthalmologists.

The Health and Welfare Committee voted 12-7 in favor of House Bill 527, by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe. The measure moves to the House floor for consideration.

The committee heard from several ophthalmologists who oppose the measure, including Dr. Keith DeSonier, who has a practice in Lake Charles. DeSonier, who also represents the Louisiana State Medical Society, said there is available training for optometrists wanting to become ophthamologists.

“There is a honorable pathway to becoming a physician,” DeSonier said. “There is educational training open to everyone.”

The bill does exclude optometrists from doing 18 surgeries like retina laser procedures, injection to treat macular or retinal disease, and eye removal.

Dr. John Cooksey, a private ophthalmologist from Monroe, said the optometrists who want to perform surgical procedures have a weak argument that “doesn’t hold water.” He said optometrists should not have their scope of practice expanded because they lack the appropriate training.

“You cannot have it both ways,” Cooksey said. “The surgery that is being proposed is more than minor surgery.”

Dr. Evan Schoenberg, an ophthalmology resident at Tulane University, told the committee about the training that goes into becoming an ophthalmologist.

“Optometrists are excellent eye doctors, but they’re not eye surgeons,” he said. “They don’t have that experience. And a weekend, or a week or a month can’t teach it.”

Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek, said she was concerned about people in rural communities who don’t have ophthalmologists located nearby.

“Would you come to Pitkin and set up your practice?” she asked Schoenberg. “I’m challenging you to do that.”

Schoenberg responded that patients travel long distances to be treated by heart surgeons, instead of relying on cardiologists or family doctors.

After the vote, Hill said residents in Allen and Beauregard parishes have “competent optometrists” that also treat Medicaid patients. During the hearing, Cooksey told the committee that he treated Medicaid patients at one time.

“We have a need now,” Hill said. “And I have that in my area because we’re rural.”

Rep. A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles, said there appears to be miscommunication between optometrists and ophthalmologists.

“Still, one needs the other,” Franklin said. “I don’t think the bill really requires (optometrists) to do the major surgeries. You can be the best person in the world at anything you do and make a mistake sometimes.”

Local lawmakers who voted for the measure were Franklin, Hill, and Rep. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville.

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