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State Question 793 endorsed by Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature

If approved, State Question 793 would allow eye doctors to operate inside big box retailers like Walmart. [Thinkstock image]
If approved, State Question 793 would allow eye doctors to operate inside big box retailers like Walmart. [Thinkstock image]

The Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature has unanimously endorsed a state question that would allow eye doctors to practice inside Walmart and other big retail stores.

The endorsement places the senior adult advocacy group directly at odds with the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians.

Cost and convenience are the two main reasons members of the Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature's support State Question 793, said Connie Ullman of Tulsa who authored the resolution urging passage of the Nov. 6 ballot measure.

Oklahoma currently is one of just three states that don't allow eye doctors to practice in big retail stores like Walmart, Target and Costco. That would change if Oklahomans vote to approve State Question 793.

A woman who had moved to Oklahoma from Texas inspired the Silver Haired Legislature to begin pushing for change about three years ago, Ullman said.

The elderly woman had purchased an inexpensive pair of eyeglasses at a Sam's Club in Texas. The glasses broke after she had moved to Oklahoma, Ullman said.

When she went to replace them at an Oklahoma Sam's Club, she was told they couldn't be sold at such locations in this state.

"She said she ... was just appalled at what it was going to cost here to get her glasses fixed," Ullman said.

Instead, the woman opted to go back to Texas to get her glasses replaced.

Ullman said members of the Silver Haired Legislature have tried every year since 2016 to get a state lawmaker to author a bill that would allow eye doctors to do business in large retail stores, but they have been unable to get a lawmaker to author such a bill because optometrists in Oklahoma have a powerful lobbying organization.

When a citizens' petition to change the law came out, members of the Silver Haired Legislature were quick to offer their support, she said.

Many senior citizens are on fixed incomes, Ullman noted.

"If they can get to a Walmart and get their grocery shopping, get their drugs filled and get their eyes checked, what a great convenience that is for them," she said.

Joel Robison, chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians, said Oklahoma optometrists are strongly opposed to the change.

"We believe this is basically Walmart and some other big box businesses ... trying to change our state's constitution," Robison said. "There is language in the ballot question that would allow Walmart, in this case, to limit the doctor's practice. In other words, either through a contract or a lease agreement, direct the doctor on patient treatment and patient care and we think that's bad for patients and bad for Oklahoma so we're opposed to State Question 793."

Robison disputed that allowing optometrists to practice in big retail stores would increase accessibility.

"Actually, we did a study on that," he said. "There isn't a Walmart in Oklahoma — with maybe one or two exceptions — that there isn't an optometrist within two miles of that Walmart or Sam's or whatever it is. We've got optometrists all over the state, in many locales where there aren't currently Walmart stores, so actually we believe this could have the opposite effect."

Robison said he believes allowing optometrists to work out of large retail stores could drive small town optometrists out of business, leaving Oklahomans less access to convenient eye care.

Robison contends the current system offers a multitude of low cost eyewear options to customers at places like LensCrafters and EyeMasters.

Support for State Question 793 was just one of two resolutions and four proposed bills that the Silver Haired Legislature voted to support during its September session. The advocacy group also:

• Passed a resolution urging employers to provide employees with job flexibility when caring for an elderly relative. The resolution contained no mandates.

• Voted to support amending Oklahoma law to eliminate sales tax on hearing aids administered or distributed by a practitioner.

• Proposed amending Oklahoma law so that premiums for Medicare supplemental insurance policies could only be increased during open enrollment periods and no more than one increase could be made in any calendar year.

• Recommended creating a task force to conduct a one-year study on the need and funding sources for an ombudsman program to serve persons receiving in-home or community-based long-term care services.

• Recommended amending Oklahoma law to add five regional long-term care ombudsmen staff members to the 10 ombudsmen currently funded through a nursing home quality of care fee.

Ombudsmen are advocates for persons needing long-term care, said Esther Houser, a member of the Silver Haired Legislature and a retired state long-term care ombudsman.

Ombudsmen provide families with information to help them select providers, inform people about their rights and regulations so they can be their own advocates, serve as advocates to help families resolve complaints, and lobby for regulatory changes to benefit individuals needing services, she said.

Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›