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Advocating for Healthy Vision in America

Recently, a colleague shared with me a quote she saw etched on a statue in Washington D.C.  It said, “Work is love made visible.”  As I contemplated this month’s blog, I was inspired by this quote and how the work we do for vision health truly is a manifestation of our love for the world and for a greater cause.  Each of us finds inspiration in the change that healthy vision brings to the world, one sight correction at a time.

At the American Optometric Association Optometry’s Meeting last month, each of the doctors recognized for their work in the eye care field was also celebrated for the ways he or she is giving back to the world – for their labors of love.  One such doctor, Reena Patel, OD, was awarded the Dr. W. David Sullens, Jr. InfantSEE Award, and is also a known advocate for pediatric vision in her community and across her state of California.  Her labor of love is not only commendable, but reflects a critical cause today in the United States,  as the country finds itself at a crossroads with its healthcare system, particularly as it relates to services like eye exams.

The future of the Essential Health Benefits, a set of 10 categories of services health insurance plans must cover under the current Affordable Care Act, including vision care for children, is still to be determined as the government works to redefine the existing healthcare system.  While we remain hopeful that these essential health benefits will continue, Prevent Blindness and more than 100 organizations, including the Vision Impact Institute, are diligently advocating that children’s vision coverage be maintained in any new healthcare legislation.

If these benefits are removed from the national agenda, it will be incumbent upon individual states to ensure that children have affordable access to eye screenings and comprehensive eye exams.  Currently only two states in the United States require eye exams for children entering kindergarten, while other states don’t even require a school screening.  In light of the potential national changes, all states must prepare to stand in the gap for their children, their future.

Today, vision impairments and eye disorders are the third leading chronic condition among U.S. children, and costs for direct medical care, vision aids, devices, and caregivers amount to $10 billion per year. Our country can’t afford to make this decision lightly.

Vision impairments aren’t just impacting school-age children, though.  The medical journal JAMA Ophthalmology published findings that 174,000 preschoolers in the United States struggle to see due to untreated vision problems, and the report expects this number will increase by 26 percent by 2060.

Kids See: Success, a program advocating for early intervention for children’s vision, is currently working with the state of New Jersey to establish a new “gold standard” as defined in a  2016 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine: children need to receive a comprehensive eye exam prior to entering kindergarten.  This gold standard would ensure each and every kindergartner in the state would start their academic career on a level playing field.  Programs like this and many others rely on a strong national healthcare agenda with an equally stable children’s vision benefit.

It’s up to us to ensure that all governments around the world understand the benefits of prioritizing vision health for their populations today and tomorrow.  Ensuring the world’s children can see clearly today has tremendous long-term implications for the socio-economic strength of a country over time.  If we work together, our individual labors of love will soon create a movement – a movement for change and an investment in the future.  Let’s continue Giving Vision a Voice!