Advocacy

MOA Government Relations: Progress in 2015, Opportunities in 2016

The 2015 Minnesota legislative session will go down as one with chaos, Capitol construction and political acrimony. With a backdrop of significant Capitol renovations, a new House Republican majority and newly re-elected DFL Governor had many opportunities to work with a Senate DFL majority and budget surplus of nearly $2 billion. Political ideology, however, over tax cuts, early education and transportation nearly created irreconcilable differences which required a special legislative session to repair.

But that didn’t stop MOA - in working with the government relations team at the law firm of Fredrikson & Byron - from successfully advancing elements of the following MOA legislative agenda:

  • Mandate pediatric comprehensive eye exams as a requirement for admission to public school;
  • Prohibit health plan mandates from limiting vision plan coverage and setting fixed prices of non-covered services and discounts;
  • Regulate the dispensing of spectacles or contact lenses via kiosks with current prescription from Board certified doctor; and
  • Monitor legislation of interest to MOA and, if necessary, defeat any threatening proposals, such as 1-800 proposals on UPP.

The legislative session started out with great promise with bi-partisan support for MOA legislation requiring comprehensive eye exams for all children entering public school. Opposition from other stakeholder organizations and a surprise fiscal estimate for state coverage of children under the new Affordable Care Act, however, created new caution for some legislators and caused what appeared to be legislative death of the proposal.

Fortunately, Sen. Alice Johnson (DFL-Blaine) saved the day and helped get legislative language passed which requires school health forms to list comprehensive eye exam information. Sen. Johnson also included a directive that the Minnesota Department of Education study the number of pediatric comprehensive eye exams conducted prior to school enrollment and submit a report to the legislature in 2017.

In an effort to introduce the concept of regulating commercial kiosk dispensaries and further promote efforts to prohibit limited vision coverage and setting fixed prices for non-covered services, Rep. Tama Theis (R-St. Cloud) and Sen. Vicki Jensen (DFL-Owatonna) offered a combined legislative proposal. Regulating kiosks attracted some positive attention but the non-covered services and discounts language did not. Opposition from national vision care plans and a lack of negative impact here in Minnesota did not motivate legislators to tackle this complex issue, thus putting the bill on hold.

Other legislation of MOA interest that had been on hold, however, finally was adopted by the legislature. Overdue revisions to the state’s Optometry Board operations (along with fee increases to cover additional investigations) from the 2014 legislative session was passed with the assistance of Rep. Roz Peterson (R-Lakeville) and Sen. Vicki Jensen (DFL-Owatonna) and signed into law.

But new legislation of concern to MOA came in the form of prohibiting Unilateral Pricing Policies (UPP). 1-800 Contacts is attempting to pressure vision care product suppliers – Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, etc. – from setting UPPs at the federal level by targeting key states with similar legislation, potentially putting optometrists in harm’s way. MOA was successful in working with local supplier companies in blocking passage of the legislation.

JOIN THE PAC!

The Optometric PAC continues to grow strong – but we still need your help. The PAC supports elected officials and those running for office that advances the optometric profession. Fundraising efforts in 2015 generated nearly double the contributions of the last non-election year. That puts our advocacy efforts in a strong position going into this election year when all 201 seats in the House and Senate will be on the ballot in November. This year, the PAC had 35 brand new donors who had never given before and those new donors represented nearly 20 percent of the funds raised. If you have not yet given to our political and advocacy efforts, consider a contribution in 2016.

2016 LEGISLATIVE SESSION – ANOTHER WHIRLWIND!

Much like the 2014 legislative session, this year is set to be a fast-paced session with very little time for controversial items. The legislature will start on March 8 and attempt to wrap up its work by mid-May. Legislators have a $1+ billion budget surplus again but this politically-divided legislature and Governor will attempt to tackle the same 2015 global issues like tax cuts, transportation and early education.

MOA has already been strategizing with legislators and stakeholders on additional pediatric comprehensive eye exam requirements, the regulation of kiosks and continued defeat of the UPP legislation. MOA will attempt to seize opportunities at the Capitol and further advance the optometrist agenda but it can’t be done without your involvement! Your role with the Optometric PAC and contacting your legislators on MOA priorities will be vital to our success. For more information about the MOA legislative agenda and how to engage your legislators, please contact MOA Executive Director Beth Coleman at beth@mneyedocs.org or 952-921-5881.