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West Virginia Gazette

Section: Perspective

22 March 2009

By: Phil Kabler

March Madness: Some of the most contentious bills over the years have dealt with health-care professions protecting their turf when it comes to authority to perform various procedures. Most recently , there was a tug-of-war among dentists, dental hygienists and dentist assistants over what procedures the latter two could perform without a dentist present.

This year, the fight is between ophthalmologists and optometrists over proposed legislation to allow optometrists (who receive four years of vocational training) to perform certain surgical procedures (primarily, laser surgery) currently restricted to ophthalmologists (who are physicians).

Depending on who you talk to, the disagreement literally got physical last week, following a House Health and Human Resources subcommittee meeting on the legislation (HB2978).

Following the meeting, there was an altercation in the East Wing hallway between Charleston ophthalmologist Dr Lawrence Minardi and Nelson Robinson, who lobbies for the state Optometric Association.

According to those siding with the ophthalmologists, Robinson shoved Minardi.


(I asked Thom Stevens) who lobbies for several medical associations, if in basketball terms, there was sufficient contact during the incident to draw a foul. He said, yes, for a personal foul, maybe not a technical foul.)

Witnesses siding with the optometrists contend that Robinson merely put his hands up as Minardi got into his face arguing over the bill.

For his part, Robinson said he was offended that, during the subcommittee meeting, Minardi told delegates that optometrists have less medical training than John King, the notorious osteopath who racked up more than 120 malpractice claims during his tenure at Putnam General.

Robinson said he told Minardi that he thought comparing optometrists to King was inappropriate and insulting, which led to the exchange.

Bottom line, though, is that because of the incident, the already controversial issue is too hot for legislators to touch this session, and the bill will most likely be assigned to a legislative interim committee to study over the next year.

Clearly, it’s a tough issue, since laser eye surgery is a very lucrative practice, and ophthalmologists don’t want others cutting into their business. On the other hand, it’s probably not good public policy to let people without adequate training shoot lasers into people’s eyes.