Will Missouri Impose One Mandate As It Fights Another?
Regarding health care, Missouri’s legislature is getting it right on at least one front. On the one hand, it is working to close legal loopholes that could allow a health insurance exchange to be implemented unilaterally in the state capitol, either by administrative or gubernatorial fiat. There are lots of reasons to oppose implementing an Obamacare exchange in the state, but there should be little dispute that if it is going to be implemented, it needs to go through the proper legislative channels.
What should raise concerns, however, is whether state legislation that mandates optometrist eye exams for incoming kindergartners is right for Missouri. At least one state commission does not think so, which does not even begin to address the philosophical consistency question implicit in the move. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports (emphasis mine):
Calling the law ineffective and a financial burden on families, a state commission recommended that legislators drop the exam and instead beef up vision screenings by school nurses. The state’s eye physicians and surgeons embraced that approach.
Optometrists, however, are mounting a big push to get the Legislature to renew the exam requirement, which is slated to expire this June. The Missouri Optometric Association has hired 11 lobbyists. More important, they have a key ally: House Speaker Steve Tilley, an optometrist.
Tilley, R-Perryville, put the optometrists’ bill on a fast track — it is headed to the House floor after a packed committee hearing last week — while he bottled up the alternative, the school nurse bill, by not referring it to a committee.
Caught in the political crossfire are families who may have to shell out $100 for a child’s eye exam, because private medical insurance generally won’t cover it.
The chair of the Children’s Vision Commission, Oscar Cruz, is not impressed about the merits of the current law. “It’s a political process, unfortunately,” he said. And then there is the fiscal note.
The fiscal note on the optometrists’ bill suggests the state could use a $99,000 appropriation earmarked for blindness screening and treatment to pay for exams for about 6,637 uninsured kindergartners and first-graders in districts without kindergarten.
But that would average out to only $15 an exam. Mickey Wilson, director of the Legislature’s Oversight Division, said the analysis assumes that some optometrists would do the tests for free, or at a reduced cost.
That sounds like an awfully big assumption, and it does not even answer concerns for insured children whose plans would not cover the exams, the cost of which would fall to Missouri’s parents. The commission notes that outfitting school nurses to perform eye care screenings makes more sense.
Cruz said screenings by school nurses catch about 95 to 97 percent of eye problems that can damage vision on a long-term basis. Forcing 65,000 kindergartners a year to get comprehensive eye exams, he said, is “an incredible waste of resources.”
Only two other states — Kentucky and Illinois — have similar eye exam mandates. Is imposing an onerous mandate on Missouri families really the right course, especially as the legislature (very publicly) fights the onerous Obamacare mandate? The inconsistency should cause some pause.