Lights could be turned out on eye war

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Florida’s optometrists and ophthalmologists might finally see to eye, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

The two groups, which have been throwing off their white coats and fighting in the Legislature for years, said Thursday they have agreed on a compromise about whether optometrists should be able to prescribe oral drugs.

It was a sight some longtime lawmakers thought they might never see. Sen. Arthenia Joyner said she remembers the issue from 2001, her freshman year in the Legislature, saying it was “hot then and it was hot up until today.”

“You all have cooled it, made it palatable,” Joyner said to Sen. Garrett Richter who worked out the compromise with the groups. “And it’s a bill that I can support.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday unanimously approved the compromise bill (SB 278), and the full House is expected Friday to tack the compromise onto a bill (HB 239) and pass it. 

Optometrists have long been able to prescribe what are known as “topical” medications, such as drops and creams, to patients. But the fight has centered on whether they also should be able to prescribe oral drugs.

Supporters of the idea have argued that expanded prescribing powers would improve patient access to eye care and that optometrists are adequately trained to make decisions about oral drugs. But ophthalmologists have contended that prescribing oral medications should be left to people who went through medical school and received years of training on issues such as drug side effects.

The compromise includes 14 oral drugs that optometrists would be able to prescribe, including certain types of antibiotics and anti-glaucoma drugs. But it also includes limitations, such as barring optometrists from prescribing many types of controlled substances, including controlled substances for chronic pain.

The measure includes a series of other steps, such as requiring optometrists to take a course and an exam before they can prescribe oral drugs. Also, while optometrists are not allowed to perform surgery, the bill goes into detail about certain procedures they can do — such as “probing an uninflamed tear duct in a patient 18 years of age or older.”

Officials from the Florida Optometric Association and the Florida Society of Ophthalmology assured senators Thursday that they have agreed to the compromise.

“There was much soul searching and introspection to come to this agreement, and I feel it’s a good agreement,” said Ken Lawson, legislative chairman of the optometric association.

Lawson and Charles Slonim, president of the ophthalmology society, said they think patient safety is protected.

“Let this be proof that ophthalmology and optometry can work together for the benefit of Florida patients,” Slonim said.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.