BATON ROUGE, La. -- The vote on the House floor, scheduled for this afternoon, drew scores of two types of eye doctors away from their patients and into the legislature.
But just before the bill was to be heard, its author pushed it to a later date so that the two sides could negotiate more.
The turnout was strong in the capitol rotunda. Ophthalmologists, or MDs, with badges against the bill, were in one area with optometrists, or ODs, in another. The ODs, who have four years of post graduate training, say there are 100 more of them in the state, and this bill would give access to places with no MDs.
"Those parishes that don't have ophthalmologists, those people don't have good access to these improved eye care procedures," said Dr. James Sandefur, a retired optometrist from Oakdale who is the executive director of the Optometry Association of Louisiana.
They say in Oklahoma, ODs have performed 25,000 laser procedures in the last 25 years with only two complaints. And he says the Optometry Board is capable of overseeing complications and problems.
"All of these procedures are taught in optometry schools. Currently this bill would require extra training for those optometrists who didn't have that training in optometry school, require them to get extra training to do these procedures," added Dr. Sandefur.
But the medical doctors or ophthalmologists are not seeing eye-to- eye on this bill with the optometrists.
"Frankly, it's an irresponsible bill in that it's going to legalize surgery in the hands of people that have no surgical training whatsoever. In the rural areas of Louisiana, there's no citizen in Louisiana that is more than 20 miles away from an ophthalmologist. There is no shortage of eye surgeons in the state of Louisiana. In fact, we have as many or more ophthalmologists than Texas," said Dr. Al O'Byrne, president of the Louisiana Ophthalmology Association.
MDs say years of medical school and residency in clinics and hospitals teach better judgment and diagnostic and surgical skills.
They believe patient safety is at risk, prices will go up and that the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners is more public with disciplinary actions of doctors in all specialties than the Optometry Board of Examiners. And they say doctors who are against the bill have been blacklisted, no longer getting referrals from optometrists.
"One of the reasons many ophthalmologists stay quiet, they're all calling me and they're screaming about this bill, how irresponsible it is. But you don't see them coming and lobbying because they are afraid of losing referrals. They feel that their practices are going to suffer," said Dr. O'Byrne.
Dr. Sandefur says he has no knowledge of blacklisting medical doctors who are against the bill.
No date has been set to bring the bill back up for a vote on the House floor.