Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
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NEW ORLEANS - A controversial bill, that pits two groups of eye doctors against each other, is now on its way to the Louisiana House floor, after passing 12-7 in committee Wednesday. One side says patients will get quicker and less costly care, The other says safety and quality are at stake.

It was a packed room in Baton Rouge, with optometrists for the bill and white coat-clad ophthalmologists against. The bill, in the House Health and Welfare committee, would give optometrists or ODs more leeway to perform eye procedures using a scalpel, give injections and write most prescriptions.

'It allows OD's to administer medication by injection for the treatment of disease and disorders of the eye and surrounding structures. We're currently allowed to use injections for emergencies and would simply like to be allowed to use them in clinic treatment. This will provide faster healing and less cost to our patients,' said Dr. James D. Sandefur, Executive Director of the Optometry Association of Louisiana.

But ophthalmologists or MDs argue that even though ODs have four years post graduate study, they have not been to medical school or the years of clinical and O.R. training afterwards.

'In medical schooling, my clinical training, it took me tens of thousands of hours to perform surgery and most importantly to develop the judgment to know when to operate and when not to operate,' said Dr. Monica Monica a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology who is in private practice on the West Bank.

So far, there are only two states in the nation that have passed a similar law. They are Oklahoma and Kentucky.

But in polls, 79 percent of Kentucky citizens objected to the bill. And in Louisiana, 89 percent oppose allowing people not licensed by the Louisiana State Medical Board to perform eye surgery.

The ODs argue this bill means better access to eye care, especially in rural areas, claiming fewer delays and therefore treating problems earlier on, as in Oklahoma.

But MDs worry when medical complications happen to patients, the Board of Optometry will not discipline and regulate these transparently as the Board of Medicine will.

'Why would we have medical schools? Why would we put so much training on the backs of these young people coming out and expect so much? This is a safety issue. Louisiana deserves better. House Bill 527 has got to be defeated by the patients out there.

MDs are concerned if the bill becomes law, the exclusions will slowly be stripped away as has been tried in other states. ODs say the procedures they want to do are minor and safe.

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