OKLAHOMA CITY — The fight over eye care reform will heat up again next year as supporters say they’ll ask state lawmakers to intervene.
Joshua Harlow, a spokesman for the Yes on 793 campaign, said eye care consumers continue to demand a fix even though voters narrowly rejected a state question earlier this month.
State Question 793 failed by fewer than 5,600 votes. The constitutional measure would have allowed Oklahomans to obtain optometry services at retail establishments like Walmart or independent stores instead of only optometry offices. Proponents said it would have made eye care more convenient and affordable.
Harlow said supporters believe the state question ultimately failed because some voters didn’t like the idea of changing the state Constitution, and they didn’t like a section of the provision that would have allowed retailers to determine the scope of practice.
“I think the plan going forward is to find some sort of compromise on those because the election was so close,” Harlow said. “I think it’s something that would be good for Oklahomans.”
But Joel Robison, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians, said he hopes lawmakers keep in mind that Oklahomans ultimately rejected the eye care proposal, even though the vote was close.
He questioned how many legislators want to overrule the will of voters.
Robison said his association will continue to oppose efforts to conduct eye exams that do not meet current state standards.
“I don’t think Oklahomans want anybody other than their doctor to be able to make health care decisions for them,” he said.
He said members also have a problem with optometrists working inside big-box retailers without any sort of separation.
“We like that separation, we like that wall that makes optometrists truly independent where they’re not dependent on what a store manager believes,” he said. “(When you walked into a store), you’re going to be treated like a customer. They’re going to try to sell you things. And I think those two ideas are not necessarily compatible. You can’t treat someone as a customer and necessarily a patient.”
John Kusel, the former president of Oklahoma’s Silver Haired Legislature, said his group has been unsuccessfully lobbying state lawmakers for several years to expand eye care access. Kusel’s group pitches ideas designed to benefit the state’s 800,000 senior citizens.
Kusel, of Fort Cobb, said he’s hopeful 2019’s legislative session yields a different outcome.
“I think if it’s handled properly, correctly, I think they can do it because it’s a matter of funding,” he said. In past years, the side with the most money has influenced the outcome, he said.
Kusel said he believes misinformation ultimately led to the state question’s downfall.
“It was a dirty shame, but that’s what happens a lot in politics in Oklahoma,” he said.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.