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Eye doctors’ ‘poison pill’ trick almost worked

After years of the Florida Medical Association thwarting the idea, Sen. Mike Bennett got creative Tuesday in his effort to boost drug-prescribing powers for optometrists.

Bennett attached the idea to a bill that, otherwise, would be near and dear to the FMA --- a bill that would help shield doctors from medical-malpractice lawsuits.

But trying to box in the doctors' lobby didn't work, as the Senate Health Regulation Committee deadlocked 6-6 on the bill. Tie votes kill bills in Tallahassee.

The vote marked the latest in years of defeats for optometrists, who want to be able to prescribe oral medications. Currently, they can only apply "topical" medications, which are applied to the surfaces of eyes.

Bennett, a Bradenton Republican, argues that giving the prescribing powers to optometrists would help reduce medical costs, including the state's costs.

"It will save the people of the state of Florida money,'' Bennett said. "It will save Medicaid money.''

But the FMA and the Florida Society of Ophthalmology argue that optometrists do not have the extensive training that medical doctors receive to prescribe drugs. Tallahassee cardiologist John Katopodis, who represented the FMA at Tuesday's meeting, said doctors need to understand potentially dangerous interactions of drugs.

"This has nothing to do about my profession,'' Katopodis said. "This has to do with protecting the citizens of Florida.''

Bennett, however, accused the FMA of throwing doctors "under the bus'' by lobbying against a bill that would provide medical-malpractice lawsuit protections. But Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who voted against the bill, said it was "infused with a poison pill" when the prescribing issue was added.

Some senators, however, made clear they were simply weary of the debate. Viera Republican Thad Altman, who voted for the bill, described the fight as one of the "least favorite issues we tussle with every year.''

St. Petersburg Republican Jack Latvala voted against the bill, but he also warned the FMA against what he described as "intransigence."

"Just saying no is getting a little old,'' Latvala said.

--Capital Bureau Chief Jim Saunders can be reached at 850-228-0963 or by e-mail at