Raleigh, N.C. — The House on Tuesday passed a measure that would prohibit insurers from requiring that optometrists offer discounts on eye wear and other materials to insurance customers if those services aren't covered by those patients' vision care policy.
"We're not talking about insurance here," said Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake. Rather, he said such contract provisions were a way for insurers to act like they are providing a service without incurring any cost.
"For folks in their network, you get a discount," Murry said. "Everybody else pays more than the people inside the network. We're trying to fix that with this legislation."
Murry and other supporters of the bill said it would lower insurance costs for everyone, but a few lawmakers said they worried they were outlawing a benefit that people who have insurance now enjoy.
"I wonder if we're not being dragged into what boils down to a contract dispute between optometrists and insurance providers," said Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln.
Saine said that business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses oppose the measure.
Also opposed is the State Employees Association of North Carolina, the group that represents many state workers. The measure "serves no public policy purpose other than to guarantee excess profits to some optometrists, while adversely impacting North Carolina’s citizens and businesses," said Chuck Stone, the group's health care lobbyist, in a post on SEANC's website.
Some opponents argued that the bill represents an insurance mandate, but backers say it is the opposite, a measure that keeps insurers from imposing mandates on others.
"If anything, it will put downward pressure on the price of vision insurance plans," said Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash.
The bill passed the House 94-19. It has already cleared the Senate once but must return for senators to concur with changes made by House members.