NEW YORK—The American Optometric Association (AOA) has squared off against another eyecare industry organization—the National Association of Optometrists and Opticians (NAOO)—in a dispute in which the AOA calls into question whether the NAOO “can claim to be a representative organization of doctors.” The AOA’s complaint stems from the divergent views each group apparently took on an AOA-supported Contact Lens Rule Modernization Act. (The bill was not passed in the recently completed session of Congress, but implementation of the FTC's updated Contact Lens Rule has been delayed by separate legislation until March 31, as VMAIL reported.)

In addition, the AOA said it has raised its concerns with the Internal Revenue Service and questioned NAOO’s tax-exempt status. AOA also asks whether NAOO should be required to “more fully disclose its ties to companies and the industry that has established and funded it.”

These issues were detailed in an issue of AOA’s newsletter and posted to its website. AOA called the NAOO an “anti-optometry” organization and a “front” for large optical retailers. The NAOO “works against the interests of doctors of optometry and comprehensive vision care for patients,” AOA added.

The comments were included in a Jan. 5 letter that AOA said it sent to the IRS.

The NAOO, at the request of VMAIL, issued a response Wednesday afternoon. The group’s comment said, in part, “The recent American Optometric Association (AOA) article [of Jan. 14] about the National Association of Optometrists and Opticians (NAOO) does not accurately describe the NAOO, its mission and work.” Joe Neville, NAOO’s executive director, issued the statement.

The AOA post can be viewed here. The AOA said in the post it has called for a federal inquiry into the tactics of NAOO, which it said is a “deceptively named influence group that has been upping its anti-doctor and anti-patient lobbying activities in state capitals and Washington, D.C.”

It appears that the FTC’s updated Contact Lens Rule—and the work that each association did toward modifying some of the record-keeping requirements of the rule—are central to the dispute between the two organizations.

AOA said it believes that, in November, “the NAOO joined forces with the internet contact lens sales industry in attacking AOA-backed, bipartisan legislation to immediately ease new paperwork and record-keeping mandates on optometry practices. Earlier, NAOO targeted specific states with lobbying efforts intended to undo essential patient health and safety protections.”

In its statement Wednesday, NAOO said, “The NAOO and its members often engage with AOA at the national level and with many of its state organizations to find mutually acceptable solutions to optical industry regulation and policy. While we may sometimes disagree on matters of policy, we have never misrepresented who we are.”

NAOO member companies include Costco Optical, Eyemart Express, National Vision’s America’s Best Contacts and Eyeglasses and Eyeglass World, Walmart Vision Center, Shopko Optical, Warby Parker, Now Optics, For Eyes (a unit of GrandVision), Visionworks, J.C. Penney Optical and Vision Essentials by Kaiser Permanente, according to a listing on the NAOO website.

The NAOO statement noted that its members operate across more than 9,000 retail optical stores covering every state and that its support for “the optometric community has included increased scope of practice and expanded affiliation opportunities.”

The group said in its statement Wednesday that it was established more than 60 years ago by “entrepreneurial optometrists and opticians as an organization dedicated to promoting high quality and convenient eyecare. …. Optometrists are and have always been involved in the association’s work.”

However, in its Jan. 5 letter to the IRS, AOA said it has asked the agency “whether the NAOO can claim to be a representative organization of doctors and if it must more fully disclose its ties to companies and the industry that has established and funded it.” As part of its request, AOA said it “specifically spotlights a claim of 501(c)(6) tax-exempt status and asks the agency to adopt rules to limit the use of professional titles by industry lobbying groups.”

Licensed doctors of optometry and members of the AOA have ethical obligations to patients, AOA president William T. Reynolds, OD, told VMAIL at presstime Wednesday.

“Yet, rather than put forward their organizational agenda in an honest way, the NAOO chooses to appropriate the prestige, recognition, credibility and high standing rightfully accorded to doctors of optometry by the media, by policymakers and by the public,” he said.

Dr. Reynolds asked the IRS to act upon the issues raised in his letter and take appropriate steps to regulate the use of misleading names by entities recognized as tax-exempt business leagues by the IRS.

“Our message to federal officials is direct: With the NAOO so actively and brazenly working against the interests of doctors and our patients, we insist on full accountability,” Reynolds noted.

Reynolds added, “Our AOA and state associations are the profession’s unified voice and sole representative. It’s unacceptable for any corporation or industry group to seek to speak for physicians, and we intend to make sure it does not happen here.”