Wal­mart re­sponds to SQ793 crit­i­cism

Re­tailer says ques­tion's ap­proval would give con­sumers more ac­cess to ba­sic eye-care ser­vices

Tulsa World - - Metro&region - By Bar­bara Hobe­rock in­fe­rior

OK­LA­HOMA CITY — Wal­mart of­fi­cials on Thurs­day dis­puted claims that pas­sage of a state ques­tion could re­sult in care in their stores.

At is­sue is State Ques­tion 793. If ap­proved by vot­ers, it would let big-box stores such as Wal­mart of­fer eye care. It would also amend eye the con­sti­tu­tion. Sup­port­ers gath­ered enough sig­na­tures to get it on the Nov. 6 bal­lot.

The mea­sure would al­low the big-box stores to limit the scope of prac­tice, and crit­ics say that would al­low the stores to merely of­fer

ba­sic eye-care ser­vices to de­ter­mine a pre­scrip­tion for glasses or con­tacts, which the cus­tomer could fill at the Wal­mart lo­ca­tion.

“You are us­ing med­i­cal care to profit on the sales of some­thing else,” said Ja­son Ellen, a Jenks op­tometrist who serves as pres­i­dent of the Ok­la­homa As­so­ci­a­tion of Op­to­met­ric Physi­cians.

Cur­rently, eye care providers of­fer com­pre­hen­sive ex­ams that can de­tect di­a­betes, high blood pres­sure, can­cer and other ail­ments.

Mony Iyer is vice pres­i­dent for U.S. Op­ti­cal at Wal­mart. He said the lan­guage cited by crit­ics was placed in the state ques­tion to pre­vent eye doc­tors from of­fer­ing Lasik surgery in Wal­mart lo­ca­tions.

Ok­la­homa is the only state where an op­tometrist can per­form Lasik surgery, he said. In ev­ery other state, it has to be per­formed by an oph­thal­mol­o­gist.

“From our point of view, it is pa­tient pro­tec­tion,” Iyer said.

Ellen said sup­port­ers could have used more spe­cific lan­guage if that was the in­tent.

Iyer said if the state ques­tion were ap­proved, an eye doc­tor would be al­lowed to lease space from Wal­mart. The eye care pro­fes­sional could also main­tain a pri­vate prac­tice as well, he said.

“And then they can prac­tice to the ex­tent that they see fit there,” Iyer said. “So, Wal­mart does not dic­tate. Wal­mart does not limit. Wal­mart does not do any­thing to limit their scope of prac­tice.”

David Cock­rell, an op­tometrist in Still­wa­ter, said Wal­mart could later dic­tate scope of prac­tice to eye care pro­fes­sion­als, in­clud­ing rec­om­men­da­tions on prod­ucts for pa­tients.

Cock­rell, who is past pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Op­to­met­ric As­so­ci­a­tion, said it cre­ated a “huge po­ten­tial com­pro­mise of the doc­tor-pa­tient re­la­tion­ship.”

Crit­ics have also sug­gested Wal­mart and other big­box stores could put quo­tas on eye care pro­fes­sion­als, re­quir­ing them to see a cer­tain num­ber of pa­tients.

“We don't put quo­tas,” said Jen­nifer Som­mer, Wal­mart's di­rec­tor of Op­ti­cal Prac­tice Com­pli­ance.

The rent an eye doc­tor pays has noth­ing to do with the vol­ume of the prac­tice, Som­mer said.

“It is not in the best in­ter­est

of the pa­tient,” Som­mer said.

Iyer said ap­proval of the state ques­tion could cre­ate a stream of pa­tients eye doc­tors might not see ev­ery day.

“The peo­ple who come to Wal­mart are work­ing fam­i­lies,” Iyer said. “They are on a bud­get. And very of­ten, they have kids and those kids don't nec­es­sar­ily get an eye exam if they need an eye exam mostly be­cause it is not con­ve­nient for the par­ents to be able to do that.”

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