In Case You’re Wondering, The Opthalmologists Won The LASIK War

One of the least consequential and somehow most contentious of the fights in this year’s legislative session so far was a knock-down, drag-out donnybrook between people shopping around for 7-series BMW’s for their daughters and people shopping for 5-series BMW’s.

Call it #WhitePeopleProblems if you want.

The fight was over HB 527, a bill by Rep. Frank Hoffman (R-West Monroe) which would have made optometrists legally able to perform LASIK surgery and do other procedures currently restricted to opthalmologists.

The difference between the two: opthalmologists are “eye doctors” who go to medical school for four years, do a residency and so forth. Optometrists go to optometry school for four years but not medical school. They’re more properly described as “lens crafters” because most of what an optometrist does is prescribe and sell eye glasses and contact lenses.

Here’s the thing: the way LASIK works is that somebody who’s in medical sales has the LASIK machine and he brings it around to opthalmologist offices according to a schedule. This opthalmologist on Monday, that one on Tuesday, and so forth. The opthalmologists schedule LASIK patients for the days when they get the machines, and they make serious bank off $700 an eye, or whatever the cost is, for a couple dozen patients that day.

And the procedure is pretty well standardized. There isn’t a great deal of art to it. The opthalmologists train up on how to do LASIK largely from the medical sales rep who brings the machine around to them. It’s one heck of a lucrative practice.

The optometrists, who got Hoffman to author the bill, think this is ridiculous. LASIK money is fat money, and if some guy in medical sales can train opthalmologists on how to shoot laser beams into somebody’s eye he sure as heck can train the optometrists on how to do it.

Thus, the bill. And the opthalmologists, recognizing that their gravy train was about to come off the tracks, raised five kinds of hell about the bill.

The fight was a fun one to watch, though the vast majority of the public absolutely couldn’t care less who won. The hearing in the House Health and Welfare Committee on the bill was epic, and it made it through the committee to the House floor. An initial scan of the bill’s chances offered an optimistic view.

For a while, at least. Then the outlook soured.

In the end, though, it was the optometrists who got mud in their eyes. And earlier today Hoffman donned his shades and surrendered the field.

“Obviously I thought the bill was the right thing to do. As the process moved forward, I had some reservations about it and realized this is not something that I should be doing,” Hoffmann told the Ouachita Citizen.

In other words, the opthalmologist lobby convinced him they’d be doing LASIK on something other than his eyes – like, for example, his 2015 campaign war chest – if he kept assisting the gauche upper middle class optometrists in their ogling of their elite professional honey pot.

Or maybe the opthalmologists’ daughters really, really don’t like the 5-series. And seeing the stink-eye from those kids was something no politician was interested in.

CLARIFICATION: What the bill actually would have enabled was not the performance of LASIK but the pre- and post-op procedures surrounding it.

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