West Virginia Gazette Mail

Section: Perspective

By: Phil Kabler

State ophthalmologists and optometrists have resumed their turf battle this session over who can and who can’t use lasers on people’s eyes – although in the Senate, ironically, the issue won’t be going before the Health & Human Resources Committee.

Well, maybe not so ironically, considering the legendary and ongoing feud between Health and Human Resources Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, and uber-lobbyist Nelson Robinson, whose long list of clients includes the state Optometric Association.

(In fact, the bill has only one Senate committee reference – Government Organization, which debated the issue without resolution for an hour last week in front of a packed-to-the-rafters crown of interested parties.)

Prezio was quietly fuming when I raised the issue of how a bill (SB230) affecting the public’s health could possibly bypass the health committee.


He said seven senators asked Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, to second-reference the bill to Health and Human Resources, to no avail. (On one hand, Tomblin is good friends with Robinson; on the other hand, he may have wanted to avoid the fracas that would ensue if he bill went to Prezioso’s committee…)

“These lobbyists sell people a bill of goods that they’ll get their legislation passed for a fee,” Prezioso commented.

He said he’s optimistic the bill will die in the House, but said the Senate shouldn’t be put in a position of shirking its responsibility to the public.

“We’re 34 legislators, and we should have to step p to the plate, and not leave it up to our colleagues across the hall,” he said.

Prezioso also raised the issue that it’s probably not good public policy to have a Legislature made up of laypeople (excluding its three physician members) being forced to make critical decisions about who is and isn’t qualified to perform surgeries and other medical procedures.

He wants to see the Legislature set up an interim Joint Committee on Scope of Practice Issues that would include citizen members with the medical expertise needed to rationally make those calls.

In this case, laser surgery is obvious a lucrative business, and the optometrists want to get in on the market – forcing a Legislature full of nonmedical experts to try to figure out whether they’re qualified to do the procedures or not.

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