Hernandez Holds Bill To Expand Optometrists’ Scope of Practice
On Monday, state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) pulled from consideration a bill (SB 492) that would have expanded the scope of practice for optometrists to help curb a shortage of physicians in California, the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert" reports (Rosenhall, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 8/12).
Background on Shortage
Only 16 of the state's 58 counties have the supply of physicians recommended by the federal government.
In addition, the Association of American Medical Colleges says that nearly 30% of California's doctors are nearing retirement age.
Meanwhile, the state is preparing to expand Medi-Cal and require most residents to have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which could exacerbate the shortage. Medi-Cal is California's Medicaid program.
In February, Hernandez introduced a set of bills (SB 491, SB 492 and SB 493) that, respectively, would expand the scope of practice for nurse practitioners, optometrists and pharmacists to address the physician shortage.
In May, the Senate passed SB 491 and SB 492 and sent the measures to the Assembly for consideration (California Healthline, 5/29).
The Assembly rejected SB 491, and lawmakers still are considering SB 493 ("Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 8/12).
Opposition to Bills
The California Medical Association opposes all of the bills, saying the state should focus on alternate ways to address the physician shortage, such as:
- Building additional medical schools;
- Adding medical residency slots; and
- Expanding programs to help physicians pay off student loans in exchange for working in underserved communities (California Healthline, 5/29).
Details of Decision To Hold SB 492
SB 492 was set for a committee vote Tuesday.
However, Hernandez pulled the bill from consideration this year, saying he wants to "continue working on it in committee" and develop a compromise with those who oppose it.
"What we wanted to achieve we felt needed a little more conversation, and we felt it would just be better to work over the break on it," Hernandez said.
He added that the bill's supporters are not "willing to give up on anything because we haven't had that conversation yet with the opposition."
Molly Weedn -- a spokesperson for CMA -- said the group hopes to reach a compromise with Hernandez on the bill.
"Our biggest concern has been and remains that patients are being treated by qualified health care professionals," Weedn said, adding, "We're glad there is extra time to work out" disagreements over the measure ("Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 8/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.