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U.S. House members tell Obama administration to make new eye exam coverage a higher priority

September 5, 2013

Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) are leading a bloc of 28 Members of Congress in calling on a key U.S. Department of Health & Human Services agency to do more to ensure that the millions of children set to gain health insurance coverage in 2014 will receive a comprehensive eye exam and all necessary treatment and follow-up care.

“The profession of optometry would like to thank Rep. Karen Bass and Rep. Bruce Braley for their leadership efforts to make the pediatric eye health essential benefit work for America’s families,” said Mitchell T. Munson, O.D., president of the AOA. “The AOA is gratified that more than two dozen representatives are speaking out so forcefully in support of eye exams at this critical moment, and we’ll be working closely with them to create even more awareness of this issue.”

Under the new national health care law, comprehensive eye exams through at least age 18 are designated as essential and, starting Jan. 1, are required to be offered by new health plans offered both inside and outside of insurance exchanges in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

As previously reported by the AOA, a 2013 state-by-state analysis indicated that the new benefit is based on an annual comprehensive eye exam provided by an eye doctor and is embedded with other benefits as part of the overall health insurance plan.

To view the full report, visit http://tinyurl.com/statepediatricvisioncare.

In spite of the requirements of the new law and the willingness of ODs across the country to help provide care for the newly insured, there continues to be some backing in Washington, D.C., for expanding reliance on vision screenings.

However, as has been widely reported, vision screenings frequently miss more problems than they are able to identify, including up to 75 percent of eye and vision conditions that can affect overall academic achievement, and are too often an access barrier to the eye health care services Americans need.

Reps. Bass, Braley and their allies outlined this specific problem in an Aug. 2 congressional letter and are taking a firm stand against any potential new government emphasis on screenings that could limit or undermine direct access to the comprehensive eye health coverage that Congress voted for and now wants to see implemented.

While warning against any flawed vision screening approach, the lawmakers made clear their demands that the agency make new coverage for comprehensive eye exams a higher priority.

“It is clear to agency leaders and to Congress that direct access to early and periodic comprehensive eye and vision examinations are critical to ensuring that our kids have the tools needed to succeed in school and later in life,” the lawmakers said in the joint letter.

“To better ensure that the new benefit will be more fully utilized by families in the communities where it is most needed, we urge you to actively support children’s direct access to this benefit…”

To read the full congressional letter, visit http://bit.ly/1d33V7a.

For more information on the AOA’s advocacy efforts in the nation’s capital or on how to approach your U.S. senators and House member about the profession’s priority issues, contact Jon Hymes, AOA Washington office director, at 800-365-2219 or jfhymes@aoa.org.

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