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Rand Paul's Upstart Ophthalmology Group Leaves Little Mark

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"It was a certifying board," Beth Ann Slembarski, the administrator of the major existing ophthalmology certifying board, the American Board of Ophthalmology (ABO), told TPMmuckraker.

Annual filings for NBO list Paul -- a Tea Party favorite, who days after an upset win in the GOP primary for Kentucky's U.S. Senate race ignited a firestorm last week by criticizing a key provision of the Civil Rights Act -- as the group's "owner and president." Paul's wife, Kelley Paul, is listed as its vice president, and his father-in-law, Hilton Ashby, is listed as its secretary. But it's not clear how involved Kelley Paul or Ashby have been. Reached at his home in Russellville, Kentucky, Ashby told TPMmuckraker: "I can't tell you what the organization does." Informed that he was listed as the group's secretary, Ashby said: "I was at one time involved as a secretary on something. But I don't know whether it was about that specifically or not."

Paul's organization has had little public presence since its founding over a decade ago. It appears to have no website, and a Lexis-Nexis search turns up no articles mentioning the group. Nor does it appear to have filed tax forms with the IRS, according to a search of a database listing non-profits. Indeed, the state of Kentucky dissolved NBO in 2000 after it failed to file the appropriate forms, according to the online records, but it was reinstated in 2005, and has filed an annual report every year since then.

Why start a new certifying board? Slembarski explained that in 1992, the American Board of Ophthalmology -- the established certification board -- had instituted new rules requiring that eye doctors re-certify every ten years. But it was legally barred from requiring recertification from doctors who had been certified before '92. In the ensuing years, that caused anger among younger ophthalmologists, who now were subject to a time-consuming process that their older competitors would be spared.

A 2004 article in an online ophthalmology journal expresses some of these frustrations with ABO, and notes: "[T]here are other organizations out there that are willing and able to have you take a test to be board-certified, such as the online test that is offered by the NBO. The NBO's test is cheaper and far more appealing to the younger ophthalmologists with a time-limited certification."

But it's unclear how rigorous the certification process used by Paul's group is -- and how much legitimacy the group is seen as having in ophthalmologist circles. Unlike the established ABO, Paul's organization is not a member of the American Board of Medical Specialties, an umbrella group for medical specialty organizations. Slembarski declined to offer a direct assessment on how Paul's group is viewed in ophthalmology circles, but she said that creating a legitimate certification board is "a very big endeavor." She added: "I don't think [NBO] was very successful," though she acknowledged she wasn't personally familiar with the details of its record.

Officials for two other eye-doctor groups -- the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery -- told TPMmuckraker they'd never heard of Paul's group. "I think it's fair to say that we would have heard of most organizations involved in ophthalmology in the US," said John Ciccone of ASCRS.

An internet search turned up eight ophthalmologists, from California to Virginia, who claim that they're certified though NBO. All also claim certification through ABO, the established certification group.

Neither the Paul campaign nor any of those eye doctors responded immediately to TPMmuckraker's requests for comment on NBO. Paul -- whose father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), is a Texas obstetrician -- also did not respond immediately to a message left at his Bowling Green medical practice.

About 96 percent of American ophthalmologists are certified through ABO, the established group, Slembarski said. But Paul himself is not. He was certified from 1995 until 2005, when his certification lapsed, and was not renewed.