BY BUDDY NEVINS
A classic decades-long Tallahassee special interest fight is heating up again now that a chief lobbyist is in jail.
Its the optometrists vs. ophthalmologists.
Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, a Hollywood eye doctor, was the ophthalmologists’ chief weapon in Tallahassee for years. Now he is in a federal prison.
Where to draw the border between those two professions has taken up a lot of the Legislature’s time at least since the 1970s, when I first covered it.
What’s the difference between the two professions?
Most Floridians get vision care through optometrists. They are trained during four years of graduate school to diagnose problems in the eye.
Ophthalmologists, who are medical doctors, are the only professionals allowed to perform surgery of the eye.
The ophthalmologists through their professional associations’ lobbyists have for years blocked attempts to expand what optometrists can do in the eye.
Although cloaked in flowery language about what’s best for the patient, this fight is really about money. If optometrists do more eye care, there are potentially fewer patients filling ophthalmologists waiting rooms.
Dr. Alan Mendelsohn
Mendelsohn used this fight over how the eye is treated to become a leading Tallahassee power broker. He raised money and funded candidates who would be favorable to the ophthalmologists’ position — optometrists’ practice should be restricted.
A prolific fund raiser, pols like former Gov. Charlie Crist and legislators from across the state came to Mendelsohn’s Hollywood home with their hand out.
That campaign money was a key reason why Florida was one of just three states that did not allow optometrists to prescribe oral medicine.
But Mendelsohn was greedy. He couldn’t keep his mitts off the campaign cash. In 2012, he ended up in the slammer, doing a four years stretch for wire fraud, tax evasion and lying to federal agents.
Now a bill (HB 239) allowing optometrists to prescribe oral medicine is moving through the Legislature, passing the House last week. It is something Mendelsohn fought for years.
Although Mendelsohn is not dead, he is dead politically. So maybe the bill should be called the Mendelsohn Memorial Act.
The Legislature would never do that.
They wouldn’t want to remind voters they were in Mendelsohn’s pocket for all those years…until he ran out of money and luck. Until he couldn’t help them get re-elected anymore.