State advocates ‘fighting to defend and advance our profession’

September 2, 2021
The Advancing Optometry: State Advocacy Summit 2021, Aug. 30-31, convened hundreds of state advocates and leaders to prepare for current and future statehouse challenges.
Advancing Optometry: State Advocacy Summit 2021

Successful statehouse advocacy doesn’t happen overnight, but with the lessons imparted over the course of two nights, optometry’s advocates built upon a solid foundation for affiliate leaders to leverage in moving the profession forward.

The Advancing Optometry: AOA State Advocacy Summit, Aug. 30-31, brought together hundreds of affiliate leaders and volunteers for a virtual, peer-led seminar on tried-and-true advocacy practices, as well as to discuss the emerging opposition strategies appearing in statehouse fights around the nation. Leveraging the knowledgebase of those affiliates that have gone before and the AOA’s full advocacy resources, the State Advocacy Summit sought to equip both seasoned and burgeoning advocacy teams to meet the current legislative realities.

“Any successful legislative effort, especially those at the state level, begins with an impassioned group of people, just like yourselves, committing to seeing an effort through to the end,” said AOA President Robert C. Layman, O.D., during the opening night’s session. “This tireless dedication takes time and perseverance, something I am so proud to say was exemplified in states across the country this year, when for the first time in the history of our profession we saw multiple states enact contemporary optometric legislation.”

In setting the stage for the two-night summit, Dr. Layman reiterated that the crop of volunteers leading these sessions had only recently returned from their own respective legislative battles. Therefore, the input and experiences shared with attendees represented the most detailed and relevant insight for which to begin seeding their own advocacy campaigns—a process that takes a determined, concerted effort.

Johndra McNeely, O.D., incoming AOA State Government Relations Committee (SGRC) chair, concurred, adding that volunteering in the legislative arena can be difficult and intimidating, but the State Advocacy Summit served to address those concerns through detailed input and preparation from other volunteers “in the trenches,” as well.

“The significance of this summit is that information exchange and sharing of best practices that we’ve learned in each legislative battle, both wins and losses, to better prepare all of us for future legislative endeavors,” Dr. McNeely says.

Led by veteran SGRC volunteers and advocates, the State Advocacy Summit delivered an unparalleled opportunity for state advocacy teams to learn from one another and build upon the heard-learned lessons from other recent state battles, ranging from scope of practice legislation to patient protection or vision plan advocacy.

The expert-led sessions provided actionable information about how to prepare and budget for prolonged legislative battles, how to work with lobbying teams and elected officials, and discussed regular opposition arguments across several priority issues that can be countered with a thorough, informed and measured response. Advocates demonstrated mock committee hearings and testimonies that relayed common refrains and their rebuttals.

“Our goal is that every attendee can walk away with one or two tips from each of these sessions that they can then take back to their state association and make it stronger when they file legislation,” Dr. McNeely says.

‘Continue the tradition of success’

Doctors of optometry are the key providers of Americans’ primary eye health care with as many as 37% of U.S. counties or county equivalents having sole access to care via their local optometry practice as opposed to an ophthalmologist. Such widespread accessibility already benefits patients yet given the high level of education and training that doctors receive, full recognition of optometry’s scope of practice could stand to benefit even more patients in a consequential way.

Launched in 2018, the AOA Future Practice Initiative (FPI) is a concerted, operational partnership with affiliates that identifies and eliminates outdated barriers to care. The initiative leverages the advocacy strength, resources and communication tools of the AOA to boost affiliates’ efforts and help facilitate legislative wins. That initiative is bearing fruit and events, such as the State Advocacy Summit, will only help embolden advocates in the future.

In addition to a rigorous and highly publicized fight in Arkansas that tested advocates’ resilience early and often, four states in 2021 solidified significant scope of practice enhancements, including Wyoming, Mississippi, Texas and Massachusetts. Similarly, numerous states passed critical legislation on issues ranging from vision plan and patient protection laws to COVID-19 vaccination authority—all while many statehouses still had restrictions in place due to the pandemic.

To that last point, Dr. Layman emphasized that optometry’s position as frontline providers throughout the pandemic has underscored the profession’s ability and need to practice at the highest levels taught by schools and colleges of optometry. Through conversations during the State Advocacy Summit, as well as a State Scope Roundtable hosted by SGRC earlier in 2021, Dr. Layman said advocates are laying the “building blocks for future success” that will only benefit patients.

“Events like this have the opportunity to build off of each other, with the goal being to provide you with the best resources available and to continue the tradition of success for our beloved profession,” Dr. Layman told advocates.

Interested in reading more about this historic year for optometric scope expansion? Read, “The Scope of Success,” in the July/August edition of AOA Focus.

Access AOA’s state advocacy resources

Nationwide, optometry’s advocates continue their critical work to bolster patient access by ensuring states recognize the full scope of care that doctors of optometry are educated and trained to provide—and the AOA stands ready to assist.

To help prepare states’ scope expansion efforts, the AOA offers members-only resources to address many questions about the expansion and legislative process, including tools that help advocates navigate the current political landscape and how to engage with key stakeholders. The SGRC also offers comprehensive trainings and guidance to state affiliates, building upon the lessons learned through every legislative effort across the country.

Contact the AOA’s SGRC staff, Daniel Carey or Dana Reason, to request individualized meetings for state-specific advocacy resources.

Consult AOA’s scope expansion toolkit

The AOA created a Scope Advocacy Toolkit for states and doctors to reference as they consider a scope expansion.
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