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Retail, International

Oklahoma becomes next US state to lift ban on optometry practice in big-box stores

31/05/2019
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Legislation authorising optometrists to practice within big-box stores in the US state of Oklahoma will likely be given the green light, after eyecare providers fought retail giants to preserve their autonomy.

Oklahoma is currently one of only three US states that ban the sale of glasses and contacts outside of non-medical settings, preventing optometrists from practicing in large retail stores.

The proposed Senate Bill 100 is designed to overturn the law, and would allow major retail chains such as Walmart and Target to sell eyewear and allow optometrists to lease office space in the stores.

The bill appears set for approval after being endorsed by both the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians (OAOP) and Walmart, however, it comes after an intense period in which both sides clashed over how much independence the law should allow optometrists.

The issue was first raised in an initial constitutional measure called Special Question 793 (SQ 793), which, according to State Impact Oklahoma, would have seen optometrists sign an employment contract with a retailer, and potentially limit their scope of practice. In Oklahoma, state law permits optometrists to perform minor procedures.

SQ 793 was narrowly voted down in November, with Oklahomans Against SQ 793, headed by the state’s optometric association, spending more than US$2.9 million (AU$4.06 m) on its campaign, while the ‘yes campaign’, funded primarily by Walmart, spent more than US$4.6 (AU$6.44 m) million.

Following the defeat of SQ 793, both sides met to revive the issue and develop the current senate bill, which OAOP executive director Joel Robison said would protect patients and allow optometrists to be independent practitioners, rather than employees of a retailer.

“In many cases in other states, we’ve heard where retail managers are telling optometrists how many number of frames they have to sell, how many patients they have to get through their chairs in a day, and that’s not about providing quality health care, that’s just about selling frames and lenses,” Robison told Ktul.com.

Under the bill, any optometry clinic within a store is required to be owned and operated by an Oklahoma optometrist who would lease the space from the retailer. Store employees host the sale of glasses and contacts in a separate area. Senate Bill 100 passed through the State House, and will go back to Senator Kim David to examine final amendments.

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