AB 684 - September 3, 2015
Thursday, September 3, 2015
For Immediate Release
Contact: Kristine Shultz 916.752.1671
COA, lawmakers reach agreement to ensure safe, impartial care for patients
SACRAMENTO - The California Optometric Association today announced that it has negotiated an agreement with legislators that will force health plans that employ optometrists to reorganize their business structure and comply with state law. The agreement will protect the ability for optometrists to make independent and impartial medical decisions in retail establishment settings.
After lengthy negotiations over California’s AB 684, a bill that would have prevented the state from enforcing laws governing the practice of optometry in retail establishments, the parties have agreed upon language that will clarify and improve state law to provide important safeguards for patients and optometrists.
“The agreement finally puts to rest almost two decades of litigation,” said COA President Dr. Barry Weissman. “It allows optometrists to lease space from an optician or health plan and includes sufficient protections to ensure the doctors who work in these settings can practice independently. Most importantly, it includes real enforcement provisions to ensure any violation of the law will be penalized.”
The negotiations and legislation stem from years of discussions about the business model utilized by some retail optical establishments that violates California statutes that prohibit economic relationships between optometrists and opticians.
The measure will allow an optometrist to lease space from an optician or health plan, with a lease term that cannot be less than one year and cannot be terminated for a reason that interferes with the practice of optometry. Although it will allow a landlord to require optometric services to be provided during business hours, landlords cannot control the doctor’s schedule, how many patients the doctor sees or the time interval for appointments.
Also, AB 684 has built-in protections for doctors to remain independent while leasing. According to the new agreement:
- Lease payments cannot be based on number of eye exams performed, prescriptions written, patient referrals or the sale or promotion of the products of an optician, optical company or health plan.
- The optometrist has exclusive control over the selection and supervision of optometric staff.
- The optometrist has exclusive control over the fees charged, examination procedures and treatments provided.
An optician or optical company is allowed to own a health plan only if they do not employ doctors. Also, the optometrist is free to contract with other health plans. Health plans that employ doctors like EYEXAM of California must transition them to lease arrangements within three years. This would not impact medical groups that employ doctors like Kaiser.
The bill includes key new enforcement provisions. It transfers the regulation and enforcement of the laws governing opticians and nonresident contact lens sellers to the California State Board of Optometry in an effort to consolidate the investigation of consumer complaints. Currently, enforcement of complaints against retail optometry stores is shared between the optometry board, the Medical Board of California and the state Department of Managed Health Care.
The agreement also allows the Board of Optometry to inspect leases and the premises where optometrists lease from an optician or vision plan, and to establish administrative fines and citations that can be issued for the violation of new law.
The bill contains provisions that ensure any company in violation of the law now can still be prosecuted for its past actions.
“This agreement will provide doctors of optometry who work in retail establishments more protections than existing law, and more importantly, a mechanism for real enforcement if a retail company tries to put pressure on the independent doctors who work in the same location,” said Dr. Weissman. “In the end, this will translate to better care and a safer environment for those who matter most, patients.”