Optometrists' eye-drop bill dries up

Organization's effort to ease restrictions on medicine use fails

March 04, 2000|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

What had loomed as an eyeball-to-eyeball duel of Annapolis lobbying legends fizzled yesterday when one of them blinked.

Ira C. Cooke, the veteran lobbyist for Maryland's optometrists, asked the sponsor of a bill that would add to the list of eye drops and drugs his clients can administer to withdraw the legislation. The move was a tacit admission that Cooke did not have the votes to pass the bill.

"It was not its time," Cooke conceded. "We are pursuing a variety of other opportunities."

The optometrists' retreat was a win for Bruce C. Bereano, the longtime lobbyist for Maryland ophthalmologists. For more than two decades, the eye doctors have fought attempts by the optometrists to expand their territory, and their turf battle has repeatedly pitted Cooke and Bereano against each other.

Bereano wasted little time in proclaiming his victory.

"The ophthalmologists are very pleased at the support that they have in the legislature and that legislators understand the importance of their professional jobs, which cannot be done by nonphysicians," Bereano said. "I think this development is a clear signal that legislators feel that enough is enough, and if you want to do anything of a medical nature, you have to go to medical school."

Del. Dereck E. Davis, the Prince George's County Democrat who sponsored the bill, said he was told the optometrists would try to work out the issues with state health officials.

This year's bill, which came after the expiration of a five-year truce between the two professions, would have allowed optometrists to administer eye drops used to treat glaucoma and to prescribe some antibiotics.

This year's victory helps to even the score for Bereano, who lost a 1989 battle that gave optometrists the right to use diagnostic drops in eye examinations. Bereano had appeared to be the victor in that confrontation when he persuaded Gov. William Donald Schaefer to veto the bill, but Cooke emerged triumphant when the General Assembly overrode the veto.

The grudge match is not necessarily over. Cooke said he will be back next year "if it's necessary to use the legislative route to secure [optometrists'] full scope of practice."

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