On June 5, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed a bill into law that would change the state’s definition of an optometrist by allowing these types of eye doctors to perform certain types of eye-related surgery. The bill passed the Louisiana State Senate on May 21 in a 25-12 vote, and the Louisiana House on May 5 in a 66-30 vote.
The passing of Louisiana’s House Bill 1065, sponsored by Rep. Rogers Pope (R-Denham Springs), makes Louisiana the third state in the country after Oklahoma and Kentucky to allow optometrists to perform these procedures. The bill stipulates that the types of surgery allowed cannot involve needles, and they also cannot be the kinds of surgery that would require incisions or stitches.
The new law allows the state’s optometrists who want the authorization for surgery to undergo a training period. Although no set time period has been chosen at the time of the bill’s signing, it will most likely last for 32 hours: 16 hours for laser surgery not for vision correction and 16 hours for lid surgery.
Optometrists differ from ophthalmologists in that they do not attend medical school; after finishing a four-year undergraduate degree, an optometrist will go to an optometry school for four years and may have additional training afterward. Ophthalmologists, on the other hand, earn a four-year undergraduate degree and then spend four years in medical school and four years in residence, where they learn how to perform surgeries.
Supporters of the bill state that it makes eye care more accessible throughout the state, especially for residents in rural areas. Opponents, however, have argued that the law allows optometrists to bypass education and expand their practices to charge patients more money.
Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) opposed the bill by saying, “We’re talking about [letting] people who don’t have training of medical doctors do surgery.” Similar legislation has come up and failed in the past in Louisiana, but the bill’s success this time around is the result of the new limits on types of surgery.
In a letter to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Gerald Gerdes, O.D., President of the Optometry Association of Louisiana, stated that “HB 1065 requires that doctors of optometry in Louisiana meet additional criteria for these procedures,” and that many optometrists receive up to nine years of specialized training. Gerdes also pointed out that Oklahoma has had a great record for safety in its 25,000 laser surgeries since 1988.
“The legislation simply gives patients in Louisiana greater access to quality eye care, by providing them with a choice,” Gerdes said.