(C. Jarrett Dieterle | R Street) – Oklahoma lags behind other states when it comes to freeing up its healthcare markets, and a recent debate in the state legislature shows that politicians in the Sooner State are still attempting to find the right balance.
Oklahoma is a so-called “two-door” state when it comes to vision care, meaning that it requires a separate entrance and a wall of separation between eyecare centers and larger retail stores that sell other goods and products. It also forbids stores from selling prescription eyewear unless it makes up a majority of the store’s sales.
These provisions make it difficult for many retail stores to provide vision services in the state. Last year, state residents were asked to vote on a ballot question that would have allowed large retailers to offer more eyecare services. Our team supported reforming these barriers as a way to increase commercial freedom and consumer access in Oklahoma, but the measure lost narrowly.
This year, legislators are attempting to find a compromise with new legislation that would implement reforms for retailing options in the state. However, the bill also includes language that could make the use of ocular telehealth services more difficult for Oklahoma residents. For instance, the bill’s requirement of frequent in-person eye exams could undermine online prescription renewals, which many patients understandably prefer as an easier alternative to physically visiting a vision center.
Telehealth shows tremendous potential to lower consumer and taxpayer costs and to increase access to care in remote and rural regions. Furthermore, research has consistently demonstrated that telehealth services are as safe as other forms of healthcare.
Vision care has historically been rife with protectionism and other negative impulses, which makes it all the more important for policymakers to strike the right balance. Ultimately, whether it is in-store care or online telehealth, the focus should always be on what is best for the consumer–and for freedom.