BY DAVID PERRYMAN
How and where Oklahomans receive optometric care and services could soon change if SQ 793 passes on Nov. 6, amending the state’s Constitution. This state question deals with whether optometrists and opticians can operate businesses in retail establishments.
On July 23, Gov. Mary Fallin certified SQ 793 to appear on the ballot after an initiative petition was submitted showing 249,451 valid signatures, more than double the required 123,725
Current Oklahoma law prohibits optometrists from opening practices in commercial settings. It also bars retailers from offering prescription eyewear unless it represents a majority of their sales. This issue is not a new one. Lobbyists of large retailers have for years attempted to convince legislators to change the law.
The proponents of the constitutional change who are urging Oklahomans to vote “yes” say that the amendment will give patients more locations to purchase eye care, glasses and contacts, and that 47 other states allow some form of marketing of eye care and prescription lenses that is not currently allowed in Oklahoma.
The “yes” group also claims that thousands of Oklahoma residents currently go out of state to purchase eye care and eyewear and that changing this law will allow them to purchase these goods and services in Oklahoma creating and saving jobs here in Oklahoma.
The opponents of the constitutional change who are urging Oklahomans to vote “no” adamantly claim that SQ 793 is bad for the health of Oklahomans. They say that because optometry is a medical profession and that optometric physicians are health care professionals that perform surgeries, diagnose and manage chronic eye diseases, and are tasked with detecting potentially life threatening diseases, Oklahoma has correctly chosen not to place medical professions like optometry in retail settings like Walmart.
The “no” group also claims that big box store marketing places volume above the personal care and attention that Oklahoma optometrists give their patients, and that quality eye care and the diagnosis of disease is too important to turn eye care over to “Walmart’s Business Model.”
One side says that the additional competition will give Oklahomans access to cheaper glasses and the other side says inexpensive glasses are already advertised daily in the state and that it is simply not in the public interest to allow a corporation to own a doctor’s practice because, then, the corporation will tell the doctor how to practice, which contact lenses to prescribe and which frames to market.
As of Aug. 1, Oklahoma Ethics Commission records showed that the three largest donors to the proponent group were Walmart, Costco and Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom who had together made just over $100,000 in cash contributions toward passage of the measure. As of that date, the Ethics Commission showed no committee organized in opposition to the measure.
The main web site of the proponents is yeson793.com and the main web site of the measure’s opponents is no793.com. Visit those sites to learn more about the pros and cons of how this constitutional change might affect you or your family.
– Chickasha’s David Perryman serves District 56 in the Oklahoma Houseand is House Democratic Floor Leader