Klamath Basin Surgery Center (copy)

A bill pending in the Idaho Legislature would allow optometrists to conduct three laser surgical procedures now restricted to ophthalmologists. 

BOISE — The “eyes” have it.

The House Health and Welfare Committee approved a bill Thursday that would expand the scope of practice for eye doctors and allow them to do some laser-assisted eye surgeries. The decision comes a week after lawmakers heard more than two hours of often heated testimony from eye doctors and surgeons. Several speakers referred to the debate as a “turf war.”

This was a tough decision, Rep. Jarom Wagoner, R-Nampa, said.

“Keeping the safety of the patients is always the most important thing,” Wagoner said. “Obviously we want to open that scope of practice where applicable and appropriate. I believe that the way the bill is worded that it does provide for that.”

The bill was drafted to update Idaho’s licensure laws for optometrists (eye doctors). It would update language, add definition and reorganize the statute.

A controversial portion of the bill would expand scope of practice to allow optometrists to perform some laser-assisted surgeries. Optometrists say they're only asking to do three minimally-invasive procedures that they're trained for. They say it would save patients time and money.

Ophthalmologists (eye surgeons) say there isn’t a lack of care in the state, and the bill would allow optometrists to do hundreds of surgeries they aren't trained for.

The bill would align Idaho with six states that have expanded scope of practices for optometrists. More than a dozen states have recently opposed similar expansions.

The committee chose to wait a week to vote to review an independent study in Vermont, which is considering a similar expansion. The report recommends against a scope of practice expansion in Vermont, though found the impact on public safety inconclusive.

The report provided a satisfactory answer that optometrists are trained to do the procedures, Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said.

“I’ve received a record amount of contact from constituents and those around the state on this issue,” Rubel said. “The eye is … such an easily damaged part that it was really something that it bears such an incredible amount of attention.”

Rep. Laurie Lickley, R-Jerome, cast the lone vote against the bill and said she was concerned with some of the exclusions.

“I’m really not sure that the exclusions really address what we’re looking at here,” Lickley said. “I think that I’m going to have to weigh on the side of professional standards today.”

The bill now goes to the House floor.