Puerto Rico is the only jurisdiction in the United States and its territories where optometrists are not permitted to use any therapeutic pharmaceutical agents (TPAs).
|Optometrists and optometry students stand in front of the capitol in Puerto Rico in support of their seventh TPA bill.
And, it looks like that won’t change any time soon.
In mid-May, optometrists in Puerto Rico submitted a bill (P.S. 2634)—their seventh attempt in 15 years—to gain TPA privileges. On June 25, the commonwealth’s legislature was scheduled to vote on the bill. On the steps of the Capitol building in San Juan, optometrists from Puerto Rico and students from the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico School of Optometry (myself included) demonstrated our support for the bill and exercised our right to petition the government.
However, the Democratic process was halted when Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz decided the bill should not be heard due to an insufficient number of favorable votes. I sat helpless in the public area of the Senate chamber as I watched democracy suffocate before my eyes and P.S. 2634 dissolve without due process. Such a sad event, and made even more unjust considering that the Puerto Rican government desires statehood but will not grant its citizens eye care that is equivalent to what other U.S. citizens receive.
“Optometry has made every effort to amend the current law to best reflect scientific advancements and expansion of optometric education and scope of practice,” says Angel Romero, O.D., dean of academic affairs at the IAUPR School of Optometry and one of the demonstrators in support of the bill. “Every attempt by optometry to amend the law has received fierce resistance from organized groups that do not have the welfare of the Puerto Rican people in their best interest. These groups have succeeded, and thus have kept optometric scope of practice decades behind our stateside colleagues.”
Although this attempt was unsuccessful, we will continue to fight for our patients, our communities and ultimately our profession. The status sought by optometrists in Puerto Rico is not only for recognition, but also for the right to fully perform the profession for which we have been trained and to provide full-scope eye care to the many millions of people in Puerto Rico who desperately need it.
Ms. Paniccia is a fourth-year student at InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico School of Optometry.