On a national level faculty, students and local optometrists have the opportunity to participate in the annual Congressional Conference and “Hill Visits.” Optometrists and optometry students from every state actively participate in this advocacy event. The American Optometric Association hosts the Congressional Conference in Washington, DC, followed by the grass roots “Hill Visits.” The Congressional Conference prepares participants to meet with their legislatures to discuss the relevance and importance of bills and issues that are being voted on during the congressional session. The “Hill Visits” are a grassroots citizen lobbying effort on behalf of the profession of optometry, our patients and students.
A Resource for Legislators
In addition to advocating for the profession and patients, optometrists serve as a resource for the Representatives and Senators from each state. The issues vary from year to year. Past years have dealt with patient access to care, Medicare reimbursement, insurance inequities, student loan forgiveness and changing the language of Medicaid Insurance to insure continual access to vision care. By participating in this event, NECO students, faculty and local providers are providing a service to the profession as well as enabling our government representative to do their job more effectively.
Students and faculty at the New England College of Optometry advocate for their patients and their profession in many ways. As a legislated profession, optometrists must remain vigilant for changes in the health care environment that may affect the current and future scope of practice of optometry in the state of Massachusetts and beyond. Recognition by insurance carriers, media and the public of Optometry as the leading providers of primary eye care helps allow optometrists to continue to have access to care for their fellow citizens. Doctors and students regularly volunteer their time to educate the public and legislators on the importance of optometry as a health care profession. Students join in this process by becoming student members of their state and national professional associations, through which they participate in events such as “I Care for Eye Care” Day at the Massachusetts State House. During this event, students meet with legislators and share their experiences as student doctors participating in the care process in local community health centers, VA hospitals, and school-based clinics. Elections bring changes to the legislative body, and NECO faculty and students are instrumental in providing the education necessary to promote optometric patient care.
NECO faculty are key leaders in this process, continuously advocating for improvement in access to care for at-risk populations. Several NECO faculty serve the profession and our patients in numerous areas: serving as National Board members in key health care advocacy groups, serving as district representatives and board members for the Massachusetts Society of Optometrists, serving as consultants on state and national committees, and providing testimony on state and national levels regarding optometric patient care.