Walmart responds to SQ793 criticism
Retailer says question's approval would give consumers more access to basic eye-care services
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.”