Lawsuit against potential state question takes away Oklahomans’ agency

27 April 2017
Nathan Hinkle, Student Writer

The lawsuit would keep optometrist stores out of retail shops because of concerns for the optometry business without consulting the consumers that would be most impacted.

A trade association of Oklahoma Optometric physicians has filed a lawsuit against a future state question in 2018. This state question would allow retail stores like Walmart to create eyeglass areas in their stores. In other states, most retailers are allowed to put eye care facilities in their stores. However, in Oklahoma, the current law stipulates that optometrist offices or eyeglass retailers are required to have a separate entrance to the outside and cannot be part of a large store such as Walmart.

This trade association, known as Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians, argues that eye care places are importantly attached to the doctor’s offices. According to Glen Coffee, the lawyer for the association, “Opticians are not licensed medical professionals. They are technical practitioners who dispense and fit corrective lenses.” It is necessary that eyewear locations be attached to optometrists because optometrists are the most qualified candidates to ensure that the customer receives the best service. The association argues that opticians should not be located in large box stores because it would hurt the business of optometrists and the quality of the care would lessen due to the nature of a business such as Walmart.

The association also states that this bill would hurt Oklahoma’s status as a destination state for optometrists. While general public health in Oklahoma is abysmal compared to other states, optometry is one profession that is thriving in the state. For example, Oklahoma is in the bottom six in overall health in the nation, according to the United Health Foundation’s 2016 state health statistics, beating out Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. However, optometry is thriving in education and overall population health. For example, Northeastern State University’s optometry program is one of the highest regarded optometry schools in the nation. Because of the success of optometry in Oklahoma, this association of over 700 optometrists worries that this bill will destroy this thriving enterprise in Oklahoma and ruin Oklahoma’s status as a great place to learn and practice optometry. In a quote given to NewsOK, association president Michelle Welch argued that this bill will cause “less of a commitment to excellence, fewer people interested in practicing optometry and worse outcomes for the patients.”

The original proponents behind the petition argue that this new state question will allow Oklahoma families to be able to acquire corrective eye wear more easily than before. Promoted by Walmart in the petition, Gwendolyn Caldwell of The Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom argues that “It is no surprise the special interests seek to stop the people’s right to vote on this issue. Oklahomans want more affordable, more convenient eye care products so our families can get the quality vision help they need.” This organization feels that the state question would allow Oklahoma individuals and families more options for eye care, especially in rural areas where doctors are not located nearby. With the ability to put eye care facilities in big box stores like Walmart, it could be easier for rural communities to receive eye care rather than have to drive to the nearest city to see an optometrist.

This state question should be allowed in 2018. While it is important that local business in Oklahoma is supported, it is more important that people are able to receive the care they need without having to drive a long distance in order to see an optometrist. Eyecare stations are also currently allowed in big box stores in most of the United States and this has not critically injured the optometry field in any noticeable way. It is also important that the people of Oklahoma are allowed to vote for what they believe is the best for their state. Instead of proposing a lawsuit that would completely destroy the state question, optometrists should explain to Oklahomans why they believe that this state question is bad for optometrists and more importantly, bad for Oklahomans. This future state question is important because it helps provide for rural Oklahoma as well as give more freedom to Oklahoma consumers in their choice of necessary services such as eye care.