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Tulsa World editorial: Would SQ 793 bring low-cost eye care to Oklahoma or low-quality eye care?

State Question 793 is a short-sighted effort to change the way Oklahomans care for their eyes.

Currently, optometrists are regulated by a licensing board and given broad statutory protections against competition from major retailers.

The proposed constitutional amendment would shift the balance of power to the big boys, who would be able to employ optometrists more freely, limit their practices and essentially capture their customers when they buy frames, lenses and anything else that might be on their shopping lists.

SQ 793’s promise to Oklahoma consumers is greater access and affordability in eye care. Other states with fewer optometrist protections have demonstrably lower prices. Your local optometrist can give you excellent care, but isn’t likely to keep Walmart’s hours or prices. Other companies refuse to be part of the Oklahoma eyeglass market because of the state regulatory environment.

But we are convinced that the measure’s ability to limit the scope of practice for Oklahoma optometrists opens the potential for low-quality eye care as much as it brings low-priced eye care.

Advocates for SQ 793 insist that they would never use the proposal’s provisions as a means of limiting in-house optometrists to fast, refraction-only examinations that don’t check for retina disease, glaucoma or more exotic maladies. But, when pressed, they concede that such a scenario is possible. The licensing board that protects Oklahoma consumers from such slap-dash practices would be made subservient to the retailers’ protections in the Constitution.

In a sense, the optometrists are the victims of their own legislative success on this one. Well organized, they have proven successful in protecting their turf before the Oklahoma Legislature. That led the SQ 793 forces to overreach in their response, looking to put their proposal beyond the control of the Legislature.

We understand their thinking, but don’t accept it. Had they asked voters for a simple statutory reform to allow a freer market, greater access and better affordability, we would have been eager to embrace it. But the Constitutional short-circuit of the licensing board puts consumers at risk.

We urge voters to reject SQ 793 and the Oklahoma Legislature to look at more limited statutory efforts to broaden Oklahoma’s eye care marketplace.

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