Sen. Hernandez authors bills to benefit his optometry business

Hernandez OptometryJune 17, 2013

By John Hrabe

When he isn’t in Sacramento, state Sen. Ed Hernandez is busy treating patients at his five-star rated optometry practice, Hernandez Optometry, in La Puente. The nearby picture is of him on the front page of his Web site.

For most people, it might be a challenge to balance two full-time jobs. Hernandez, though, has found a novel way to solve the problem: he’s merged his obligations as a state legislator with his profitable optometry practice.

This session, the West Covina Democrat has introduced controversial legislation that would greatly expand the scope of practice for several medical professions, including optometrists. Senate Bill 492, which is opposed by the California Medical Association and other physician groups, would give your local eye doctor the power “to perform vaccinations and surgical and non-surgical primary care procedures.”

Such a major expansion in the scope of practice would financially benefit the state’s 9,000 optometrists, including Hernandez and his wife, Diane, who also is an optometrist at Hernandez Optometry. In return, optometrists throughout the state, who under normal circumstances might be his competition, have supported Hernandez with gifts and more than $140,000 in campaign contributions.

As WebMD makes clear, although doctors, optometrists are not physicians; which is how they differ from opthalmologists, physicians who went to medical school. So Hernandez’s bills effectively would allow optometrists like himself to do many procedures currently allowed to be performed only by ophthalmologists.

Hernandez’s profitable optometry business

According to his most recent financial disclosure statement, Hernandez and his wife each received more than $100,000 in gross income from their optometry clinics. The businesses, listed with separate addresses on the Form 700 disclosure statement, are valued between $100,000 and $1 million.

But Hernandez doesn’t believe it’s a conflict of interest to introduce legislation that would benefit these family businesses.

“There is no conflict here, many Senators have careers other than politics and that makes us a stronger and more thoughtful body,” Hernandez said in an email to CalWatchdog.com. “I fully disclose all my income and political contributions because I have nothing to hide.”

There’s no evidence that Hernandez has broken any of the state’s conflict of interest laws, which do not forbid legislators from carrying bills or voting on issues that would benefit themselves. Under state law, measures that are general in nature and affect an entire industry are not considered a conflict of interest. Campaign finance watchdogs say that, even though the practice is legal, it raises ethical concerns.

“California’s conflict of interest laws deems this activity 100 percent legal, but the court of public opinion should find this 100 percent reprehensible,” said Phillip Ung, a policy advocate with California Common Cause. “It is this type of activity that leads voters to lose faith in their Legislature.”

Hernandez has accepted $140k+ in optometrist contributions

Hernandez’s broad support for the entire optometry industry explains why so many of his competitors have donated to his political campaigns. In recent years, Hernandez has accepted more than $140,000 in campaign contributions from optometrists, optometry businesses and the California Optometric Association.  In 2009-10, Hernandez O.D. Democrat for Senate 2010 accepted $81,799 from 78 campaign contributors that are directly associated with the optometry field.

The committee to fund his 2014 reelection has already accepted another $23,797 from 32 optometry-related campaign contributors. As recently as February 8, the California Optometric PAC contributed $35,000 to a campaign committee controlled by Hernandez. The committee was established “to qualify a measure to create a special healthcare district in San Gabriel Valley.”

According to Maplight, a nonprofit research organization that reveals money’s influence on politics, Hernandez’s single largest contributor over the last four years has been the American Optometric Association, which has donated $33,700 to his campaign committees. “Health Professionals,” a broad industry category that includes optometrists, contributed $129,793 to Hernandez’s campaigns, more than any other industry or profession, according to Maplight.

Optometrists’ generosity to Hernandez has also included a pair of gifts. In 2012, Hernandez reported on his financial disclosure statement two dinners, worth $131, from the California Optometric Association.

California Medical Association opposed to SB 492

Hernandez, who serves as the chair of the Senate Committee on Health, introduced SB 492 as a part of a legislative package to address the looming health care provider shortage brought about by the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare. The series of bills, Senate Bills 491, 492 and 493, would expand the scope of practice for optometrists, pharmacists and nurse practitioners.

“SB 492 is part of a package of bills that was drafted to ensure the people of California have meaningful access to a qualified health care provider,” Hernandez said in an email. “The bill is designed to help optometrists better serve the needs of their patients; if anybody stands to benefit from the provisions of this bill, it’s consumers.”

The California Medical Association, along with several other prominent health care associations, are opposed to the bills that they say would compromise patient safety.

“[Optometrists] do not have the training and experience necessary to provide comprehensive primary care,” the California Medical Association wrote in their opposition to the bill. “In addition, SB 492 would allow optometrists to practice medicine without being subject to the Medical Practice Act.”

For his part, Hernandez has made no secret of his financial connections to the bill. A March 2013 press release about the legislative package referenced that he is “an optometrist himself.”

6 comments

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  1. jimmydeeoc
    jimmydeeoc 17 June, 2013, 12:44

    Senator Hernandez:

    “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_N._Welch

    Reply this comment
  2. Dave B
    Dave B 17 June, 2013, 18:43

    So, anybody associated with their prior profession is no longer allowed to promote legislation that may benefit others in that profession? You stir the pot with allegations of graft and then defend the opposition who are the main profession to profit on the status quo?
    This is a position piece, period.
    There is no mention of the benefit to those that will actually receive medical service via the expanded scope of practice afforded by Senate Bill 492 as offered by Senator Hernandez. The people that must seek medical attention outside of the lofty offices of AMA supporters because of the ever rising costs associated with a dysfunctional health care model.

    Reply this comment
  3. tck
    tck 18 June, 2013, 15:44

    With Obama Care, there will be an influx of patients that needs eye care. Optometrists are trained to treat eye problems. You can wait 2-3 weeks to see your primary care for a red eye, or go to urgent care and get billed $300-500 for your visit just so that they can give you an antibiotic for a red eye that they were not even able to look at with a microscope because most primary care clinics are not equipped with a biomicroscope; OR you can see your optometrist with less wait time and receive care that optometrists have a doctorate degree in.
    Dr Hernandez is not my competition, we are colleagues. I fully support him because not only does his ratings show that he is a great doctor of optometry, but because as a legislator, he is working so that Californians will have better access to eye-care. He is getting support because there are a lot of people who believe that what he is proposing in SB 492 is ACTAULLY GOOD FOR CALIFORNIANS:)

    Reply this comment
  4. Patrick evans
    Patrick evans 28 June, 2014, 12:39

    Another example of people that don’t want to undergo the years of training but want to take over physicians scope of practice. This isn’t laser hair removal on your gluteus, this is the eyes we are talking about. The bribery and corruption in healthcare politics will lead to the sickness, blindness, and death of its citizens. This is a clear sign the government doesn’t truly care about the health of its people. It cares about cost, not quality. It all comes down to money. What a shame.

    Reply this comment

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