Oklahomans could soon be able to vote on whether eye doctors can open clinics inside retail stores.
Oklahoma is currently one of only three states with a law that prohibits optometrists from practicing in retail locations or maintaining any commercial relationship with a retail optical store.
But Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom, a business advocacy group, filed a petition on March 21 that could change that. The petition calls for a ballot measure modifying the state constitution to allow eye doctors to practice inside stores.
The existing law also requires a solid wall between optometry practices and adjacent optical stores, with no windows or doors connecting them. The petition proposes an amendment that would allow stores like Walmart to have their own eye clinics and sell their own eye products next to them.
Optometrists oppose the petition, and filed a challenge against it on April 7, according to The Journal Record.
Joel Robison, chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians, said the constitutional amendment is good for big business, but could make it harder for small-time doctors and eye care retailers to survive.
“If this state question were to be successful, then optometry is going to be back under the thumb of the big retailer again, determining what patient care is given and determining what can be sold,” Robison told NewsOK.com.
But the amendment could create more choices and bring down prices for the state’s optometry patients, said Gwendolyn Caldwell of Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom, in an interview with The Journal Record:
“For Oklahoma working families, it allows them to have more options,” Caldwell said. “If you have kids that are in school, sometimes it’s difficult to get kids’ eyes checked.”
Bringing the clinics to areas where the parents will already drive can be helpful, and the new locations could have more accessible hours.
For years, Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom has lobbied public officials to change the law, but its efforts haven’t been successful, said Caldwell. This led the group to try a different tactic, calling for a referendum that could be on the state ballot in November 2018 or even sooner, if a special election is called.
Large retailers like Target, CVS and Walmart have been offering urgent care, pharmacies and other medical services for years. But for now, at least, Oklahomans looking for eye care will have to stick with traditional doctors’ offices.
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