BOSTON — The MassHealth program could save nearly $20 million per year by allowing optometrists to treat glaucoma and other eye infections, according to a study conducted by a former MassHealth director for the trade group of optometrists.
The study, by former MassHealth chief Tom Dehner of Health Management Associates, found the bulk of savings would stem from allowing optometrists, not just opthamologists, to treat styes, ocular rosacea and dry eye ($9.4 million) and reducing eye-related emergency room visits ($6.4 million).
The Massachusetts Society of Optometrists is using the study results to back their push for bills that they say would curb duplicate services, spare state costs associated with more expensive specialists, and reduce burdens placed on hospital emergency rooms.
“It’s clear that bringing Massachusetts in line with the other 49 states’ eyecare practices would be a win-win for patients and the state budget,” Matthew Forgues, president of the optometrists’ society, said in a statement to the News Service. “Patients get more convenient, excellent, faster care, while the state saves significant money on its Medicaid reimbursements.”
The Senate has approved legislation allowing optometrists to treat glaucoma and ocular abnormalities six times, according to a spokesman for optometrists, and optometrists are hopeful that a narrower version of previous versions of the bill will find traction in the House this session.
House bills addressing the issue, including proposals from Minority Leader Rep. Brad Jones (H 2463) and Speaker Pro Tem Rep. Patricia Haddad (H 1169), are pending before the Legislature’s Committee on Public Health, which is co-chaired by Rep. Kate Hogan and Sen. Jason Lewis.
Under Haddad’s bill, the state Board of Registration in Optometry is directed within 90 days of the bill’s effective date to determine all professional and educational requirements necessary to provide optometric treatment of glaucoma and the prescription of all oral anti-infective medications. Licensed optometrists would need to complete educational programs and meet other requirements in order to be qualified to provide treatment.
According to the study, it does not assume savings associated with avoiding transportation costs in cases where patients have to travel to see specialists.
“We have tried to be conservative in our approach and assumptions, to ensure that estimated savings are reasonable and justifiable based on available data,” Dehner and Missy Garrity wrote in a March 15 memo to the optometrists society.
The optometrists society says there are 1,500 optometrists in Massachusetts compared to 325 opthalmologists.