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AOA Announces Expansion of COVID-19 Response on Behalf of the Optometry Profession

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ST. LOUIS—Recognizing the uncertainty facing many doctors of optometry amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Optometric Association (AOA) announced that it is expanding its all-out mobilization on behalf of the profession by launching a multifaceted crisis relief and recovery assistance package. In a letter to the membership this week, AOA president Barbara L. Horn, OD, and president-elect William T. Reynolds, OD, outlined an unprecedented plan to assist AOA members and support the profession throughout this pandemic. These immediate actions come, AOA said, as the association “continues to fight for optometry in Washington, D.C., to guarantee that the profession's essential care and physician role is fully recognized in emergency laws and regulations, and to secure at least $1 billion in continuity grants and loans for optometry practices nationwide.”

The efforts also have the full backing of AOA’s board of trustees, the announcement noted.

"At an especially confusing time, we're cutting through the clutter with up-to-the-minute practice guidance and resources and expanded member benefits," Drs. Horn and Reynolds said. "We are also spotlighting our frontline care and efforts of colleagues across the country to ease the burdens in local emergency departments."

After holding conversations with affiliate leaders and doctors on the front lines of care, the AOA board unanimously approved a comprehensive, $5.5 million plan to address the crisis currently affecting the profession. In summary, these board actions include:

• Approved immediate AOA dues relief. All AOA dues are waived for two months for all members.

• Approved dues and assessment freeze. AOA membership dues and assessment to be maintained at current levels at least through 2021.

• Directed program reprioritization. The AOA is dedicating an organization-wide response to the immediate crisis-related concerns of doctors and affiliates, extending all AOA advocacy activities (federal, state, payer and media), communications, AOAExcel, practice tools and more.

• Approved direct affiliate support. The AOA established a $500,000 fund to assist distressed affiliates.

• Establishing a long-term relief for doctors. The AOA is working to establish an AOA Foundation Optometry Recovery Fund to aid optometry practices, in partnership with industry friends.

As the current public health situation evolves, AOA said its board agreed “to continue working closely with affiliates to determine the specific further steps that will be needed in the days, weeks and months ahead.” Members will receive additional details to these actions.

“While this situation is unprecedented, the AOA has the strength, resources, reach, determination and know-how to be the relentless advocate doctors need to help the profession navigate this crisis,” the association’s post noted.

"Equally important, though, is that we are united as one profession, with colleagues committed to helping and supporting colleagues. That's why our powerful message—that we are essential care doctors committed to serving our patients, our communities and our country—will continue to be heard and resonate with policymakers, the news media, payers, our fellow physicians and the public," the letter from Drs. Horn and Reynolds noted.

AOA said it will be communicating additional details regarding the relief plan in the coming weeks.