ANNAPOLIS – A bill that would have required certification of Maryland opticians has died, leaving supporters charging that lawmakers have turned a blind eye to a looming public health threat.
“Obviously the consumers are the losers, because it means the checking and fitting of eyeglasses is still completely unregulated in Maryland,” said Douglas Corby, legislative chairman for the Optician’s Association of Maryland.
Twenty-one states currently require certification of opticians, but Maryland opticians require no certification or education standard — not even a high school diploma.
Supporters said they would introduce the bill again next year, after the House Environmental Matters Committee voted 11-9 to kill a watered-down version of their bill Friday.
But opponents say certification is unnecessary and merely an attempt by smaller optical shops to drive up costs and gain a greater share of the market now dominated by large chain stores.
“A certain segment of Maryland opticians would like to bolster and self-aggrandize themselves without any need or justification by the public,” said Bruce C. Bereano, a lobbyist for Cole Vision, the nation’s largest eyewear chain.
Certification opponents say rigorous in-house training provides opticians with all the education they need. Bereano noted that opticians have existed without government regulation in most states for over 50 years with few complaints.
Opponents said there were only 30 vision-care complaints against opticians filed with the Attorney General’s Office in 1997, a year in which the opticians sold about 432,000 pairs of corrective lenses.
Frank Rozak, secretary-treasurer of the National Association of Optometrics and Opticians, said the low number of complaints shows that the industry has upheld high quality standards on its own.
The failed bill originally called for Maryland opticians to pass a certification test before they could fill eyewear prescriptions. It also would have formed a regulatory board to oversee the process.
But it ran into trouble when the Board of Physician Quality Assurance balked at its proposed role as overseer of the certification process. Sponsors were unable to find another agency to administer the certification.
In an effort to salvage the bill, supporters offered amendments to drop the certification requirement and instead create a nine-member task force of legislators and state health agency officials to review optician service in Maryland. The amendments also called on the Board of Physician Quality Assurance to register opticians, without having to certify them.
But the diluted version of the bill was still defeated 11-9 by the Environmental Matters Committee.
Del. John Arnick, D-Baltimore County and the bill’s chief sponsor, said he will reintroduce the bill next year and worried that the public is dangerously uninformed about who takes care of their eyes.
“It’s a health-related issue and people have no idea what’s going on,” Arnick said.