Of the five state questions on the ballot in November, only SQ 793, which would allow optometrists and opticians to operate in retail establishments, is the subject of intense, well-funded campaigns from both supporters and opponents. We asked both campaigns on SQ 793 to submit guest posts explaining their position. This post by John Kusel explains why his group supports the measure. A post in opposition can be found here.
John Kusel, a Ft. Cobb rancher, is an advocate for senior citizens who has served as President of the Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature and as Chair of the State Council on Aging.
While the rising costs of healthcare can often force low-income families to make difficult decisions between their health and their financial well-being, we can break down one of these financial barriers in Oklahoma by creating new options for affordable vision care. Voters in Oklahoma will have an opportunity to do this on Election Day in November by voting “Yes” on State Question 793.
Oklahoma is one of just three states nationwide that prohibits optometrists from operating in retail stores such as Walmart, Target, and Costco, or other optical retail outlets. This forces patients to obtain vision care from traditional optometrists, which often leads to higher costs of care and eyewear as well as inconvenient access.
The higher costs associated with these outdated vision care policies disproportionately affect low-income Oklahomans. Nearly one in every six Oklahomans live below the poverty line — nearly 40 percent of which are single-mother households. For these families in particular, expensive eye exams or eyewear can be out of reach. In fact, 83 percent of families nationwide who earn less than twice the federal poverty level had children who have not had an eye exam in the past year.
Worse, without access to convenient times and locations to receive affordable vision care, many Oklahomans are left with few options for getting the care they need. Lower-income individuals and families often cannot afford to take time off work to visit an optometrist’s office, which can force them or their children to leave vision problems uncorrected. Throughout the nation, we see optical retail stores tend to offer a greater variety of hours in which full eye exams can be offered
It is not just children who suffer. I think we all know of adults, and especially our senior citizens, who are living on a fixed income and regularly skip annual optometric exams due to the cost or inconvenience. As patients grow older, it is important for an optometrist to perform an annual comprehensive exam for early detection of eye diseases and other health issues which can be detected and treated. In addition, skipping annual check-ups can lead to deteriorating vision and subsequently other difficulties, like driving or reading important instructions such as those on prescription bottles.
This November, SQ 793 will provide Oklahomans an opportunity finally to modernize the antiquated laws by allowing patients to receive vision care at convenient optical retail locations.
By supporting SQ 793, we can help bridge the financial gap preventing low-income Oklahoma families from getting the eyecare they need. A report by Consumer Reports found that purchasing eyewear at retail stores can result in savings of nearly $200 on average for patients. Having access to these less expensive vision care options can provide meaningful savings for families living on tight budgets and ensure more children in our state are getting the eye care they deserve.
Under SQ 793, this expansion of vision care access would be done while continuing to provide Oklahomans with high quality eyecare. Optometrists practicing in retail settings will provide the same comprehensive eye exams offered by optometrists today and would be required to meet the same licensing and education standards as traditional practitioners — just as they do in the 47 other states that allow retailers to offer vision care.
Earlier this year, nearly 250,000 Oklahomans supported the petition that ensured SQ 793’s position on the November ballot — a record number of signatures submitted in support of a ballot petition. It’s clear that Oklahomans support a more modern vision care system that provides the same affordability, options, and convenience that nearly all other Americans enjoy.
Now, Oklahoma voters must carry this momentum into Election Day by supporting SQ 793 and ushering in badly needed reforms that will expand vision care for some of our most vulnerable Oklahomans and communities in need.
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