Thursday, April 9, 2020 at 10:45 AM

Dear GOA members,
Thanks to AOA's immediate advocacy response, optometry is fully recognized in the  emergency telehealth student debt relief and small business grant and loan legislation  approved by Congress in recent days. We're working hard right now in Washington, D.C. to fix the bureaucratic and other snags that are causing confusion on the availability of grants and loans, employee leave policies, and even the unacceptable stand of insurers on business disruption coverage.

We're also continuing to push lawmakers to specifically ensure that doctors of optometry are fully eligible for the AOA-backed $100 billion federal grant program for hospitals and other frontline providers included in the latest round of crisis relief legislation. And, we're right now fighting for additional funding for small business "forgivable" loans (Paycheck Protection Program) to ensure that every doctor of optometry that wants and needs to participate in this new program AOA fought for is fully able to.

Together with our affiliates and always active advocacy team in Washington, D.C., each of the thousands of doctors and students who called Capitol Hill to spotlight optometry's frontline, essential care role in recent weeks has made a difference. We saw  Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas  discussing our concerns right on the Senate floor. We also saw  Senator Marco Rubio  make clear to his constituents that crisis relief for optometry practices is important to him. Now, with another crisis relief bill being drafted and our doctors and our practices enduring crisis conditions, we have more work to do.

The AOA's top advocacy priority right now is to build strong support and Capitol Hill momentum for legislation designed to directly aid our practices:

S. 3559 (Barrasso-Bennet) / H.R. 6365 (Schrier-Roe) - a bipartisan bill to deliver a specially targeted package of Federal crisis recovery grants and loans to doctors of optometry as well as to other physicians.  This legislation recognizes that doctors of optometry and optometry practices nationwide are essential to their communities and, through all the hardships of a public health emergency, we are continuing to deliver urgent and emergent care in order to ease burdens on hospital emergency departments and care for our patients.

For S. 3559 / H.R. 6365 to be made an immediate priority in the nation's capital (and be included in Congress's next crisis relief bill), U.S. Senators and House members need to understand the challenges that doctors of optometry nationwide are facing at this time and that closed and crisis-limited practices may not open again. The AOA is already asking legislators to join as a bill co-sponsor and this request must now be directly reinforced by you.

With Congress doing business remotely, there are 3 steps we're asking every doctor, student and office staff person to take to connect with their Senators and House members and stand in support our profession, our practices and our patients:

1. Visit the  AOA’s Legislative Action Center  and follow the instructions to send an urgent message to your legislators of support for S. 3559 / H.R. 6365. You will immediately be added to our AOA Crisis Response Team, and will directly receive further updates and calls to action from Washington, D.C. Click  here  to view current S. 3559 co-sponsors and  here  to view current H.R. 6365 co-sponsors.
2. After sending letters to your lawmakers, call the U.S. Capitol (House switchboard: 202-225-3121 / Senate switchboard: 202-224-3121) with the message below explaining the impact of the crisis on your practice and patients:
  • Thank you for taking my call. I appreciate your service to the public at this difficult time and all that the Senator/Congressman/woman is doing to support patients and health care providers during this national emergency.
  • I am a Doctor of Optometry practicing in ___________________________. I deliver essential, primary eye and vision health care to working men and women, school-aged children and seniors, and ensure critical access to chronic, urgent, and emergent eye care in our community.
  • Throughout this public health emergency, I’ve witnessed the necessary but dramatic reduction of in-person visits due to the CDC-recommended delay in elective and preventive care. This has put immense strain on my ability to continue to keep the doors open and caring for the immediate eye care needs of my patients, including eye care emergencies.
  • I worry that, without specific physician relief, many doctors of optometry like me will be forced to shut down our practices in the coming days, possibly for good. Sadly this would leave patients little choice but to go to the local emergency room for care, potentially exposing them to COVID-19 and further taxing our hard working emergency room providers.
  • Please let the Senator/Congressman/woman know that I called to ask for him/her to co-sponsor S.3559/H.R.6365 and to support including this much-needed physician relief plan in the planned “phase four” crisis relief bill. This will help frontline doctors of optometry and other physicians struggling to keep the doors open, caring for urgent and emergent needs, and our patients out of overflowing emergency rooms.
  • Thank you.

It has never been more important for Optometry's future to take action now. Please  contact Matt Willette , AOA's Director of Congressional Relations, with any questions, to discuss strategy or to report on the responses you're receiving from your Senators and House members.