The eyes have it. So to speak.
The House voted 67-1 Thursday to allow optometrists greater authority to treat minor eye injuries and administer prescription eye drops. The overwhelming vote was an anticlimatic conclusion to what had initially shaped up as one of the most heated debates of the session.Utah optometrists have been fighting with Utah ophthalmologists for years for the right to offer expanded eye services, something opposed by ophthalmologists and the Utah Medical Association, who say optometrists are not adequately trained to offer such services.
The issue has been before the Legislature numerous times but has failed. This year, however, a compromise was reached in which optometrists - who in Utah have been primarily restricted to offering corrective lenses - will be allowed to treat minor injuries and eye diseases, provided they first consult by telephone with an ophthalmologist.
Twenty-five other states allow optometrists to treat minor eye injuries and eye diseases.
"The compromise requires ophthalmologists to work directly with optometrists and optometrists to work directly with ophthalmologists and have a working relationship," said Rep. Jerrold Jensen, R-Salt Lake, the bill's sponsor, adding the compromise should result in greater understanding between the long-time adversaries.
The bill is of particular interset to rural lawmakers because it would allow eye patients in rural parts of the state to be treated by home-town optometrists rather than travel several hours to the Wasatch Front to be treated for minor ailments. A new licensing board will determine which optometrists meet a required level of training.