Optometric physicians across the country are working to oppose State Question 793, a Walmart-backed proposal to put optometry clinics in big box stores. In addition to the Armed Forces Optometric Society, a national organization representing optometric physicians in the military, associations in Alaska, California, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Louisiana, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia are all working to oppose the initiative, which will appear on the November ballot in Oklahoma. Vision Source, a national network of optometric physicians, and IDOC, an optometric alliance with over 3000 members, are also opposing SQ 793.
Eye doctors are alarmed and united in opposition to the language in SQ 793 that states the measure “does not prohibit optometrists or opticians from agreeing with retail mercantile establishments to limit their practice.” That language allows Walmart and other corporate giants to define the services their optometrists can offer, limiting the kind of full service eye-exam optometric physicians regularly perform and replacing it with a faster and more profitable check-up designed to sell glasses.
Dr. Brendhan Fritts of Duncan said that allowing Walmart to limit scope of practice would directly harm patients, especially those with degenerative diseases or serious conditions that might go ignored in the kind of simple vision screenings big box stores want to provide.
“When I see a patient, I am not just checking to see if they need glasses or contacts,” said Fritts. “I’m checking for signs of glaucoma, which can permanently destroy your vision. I’m checking for signs of heart disease or warnings that can indicate an imminent stroke. That kind of comprehensive exam saves lives. As far as Walmart is concerned, however, it’s a waste of time. The fastest way for them to make a buck is to outfit as many of their customers as possible with frames and lenses.”
Optometrists in other states fear that Oklahoma could be the first domino to fall as Walmart seeks to control optometry nationwide. California Optometric Association President Dr. Ranjeet S. Bajwa said optometric physicians in the rest of the nation are watching Oklahoma and hoping voters will reject State Question 793. He said the state question has national ramifications for vision health, and that doctors in California fear what might happen in their state if Walmart prevails.
“This is an attempt by a for-profit corporation to control the profession of optometry and is wrong, misleading and bad public policy,” said Bajwa. “This is an attempt to increase the profits of one of the nation’s largest corporations that puts at risk the public’s health and welfare by limiting the independent clinical judgment of our proud profession. If allowed to become law, we believe it will embolden profit-motivated giant corporations to come to our state and attempt the same.”
Dr. Jason Ellen of Tulsa said the concern from optometrists across the country demonstrates the claim made by the Yes on 793 campaign, that “Oklahoma is one of only three states” with similar laws preventing corporate overreach, is false. Instead, Ellen said, SQ 793 would make Oklahoma unique in the amount of power it gives to corporations to regulate medicine.
“There is no other state in this country where the Constitution empowers Walmart to define the scope of practice for an optometric physician or allows Walmart to dictate how a doctor can practice medicine,” said Ellen. “There is also no other state where the Constitution allows a Walmart manager to say, ‘don’t offer this procedure that might save a life or save someone’s vision. We want you to focus on selling more glasses instead.’ Oklahoma would be the first.”
Ellen said that, if successful, State Question 793 could have a negative impact on optometry and medicine nationwide.
“If Walmart succeeds in Oklahoma, it will permanently damage vision health and the profession of optometry in our state and across the entire country. Even worse, the change being pursued is a constitutional amendment that can’t be removed. Walmart is trying to put their own sweetheart corporate deal in our founding document. That’s just wrong, and it sets a terrible precedent for similar corporate control across the entire country.”
Voters can find more information about the negative impacts of State Question 793 at no793.com.
Pictured above: Optometric physicians and their families attend the Fairview Rodeo Parade in "Oklahomans Against 793" campaign t-shirts. The local effort to oppose SQ 793 has received support from vision health professionals across the country.