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AOA committee says vision care is essential for CHCs

October 12, 2013

AOA Health Center Committee members believe increased demand, generated under the health care reform law, will make eye and vision care services a necessity for every community health center (CHC). Committee members recently published an article in the journal of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) offering an overview of the issue.

CHCs will play a significant role in ensuring all Americans receive the essential health care services – including eye care and children’s vision care – covered under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) next year, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). CHCs are an important source of health care in inner cities, remote rural areas, public housing projects, migrant camps and other medically underserved areas.

That means eye and vision care must now be considered an essential service in all 9,000 of the nation’s federally qualified CHCs, according to the committee’s article, “Vision Care: the Next Essential Service in Community Health Centers,” in Community Forum.

Currently, fewer than 10 percent of the nation’s community health centers offer comprehensive eye and vision care onsite, said Lillian Kalaczinski, O.D., chair of the AOA Health Center Committee.

Some 30 million Americans are expected to enroll in new ACA health insurance plans – 7 million during 2014 alone, according to the HHS.

In the article, Dr. Kalaczinski and her fellow AOA CHC Committee members note racial minorities and economically disadvantaged populations seen in health centers have significantly higher instances of both serious eye conditions and systemic illness with ocular manifestations (notably diabetes) than the U.S. population as whole.

CHCs, established specifically to provide care for disadvantaged populations, will serve a sizable percentage of the newly insured.

Disadvantaged children often have uncorrected vision problems that can lead to scholastic under achievement, studies show. Adults and children diagnosed with or at-risk-for eye conditions are far more likely to receive the care required if it is available immediately than if they are referred to another provider and travel to another facility, studies also show.

Health plans authorized under the ACA will cover a required package of “essential benefits” including a children’s vision benefit that includes comprehensive eye examinations and eyewear and adult eye care equal to what is typically covered under an employer-based health insurance program.

The AOA offers a variety of resources to assist optometrists in providing eye and vision care in CHCs or in their practices through contracts with CHCs. For additional information, visit http://www.aoa.org/advocacy/ federal-advocacy/community-health-centers.

Read the full article authored by Dr. Kalaczinski, Gary Chu, O.D., MPH, Jan Cooper, O.D., Teresa Gossard, O.D., Susan Primo, O.D., MPH, Joyce Ramsue Thompson, O.D., Michael R. Duenas, O.D., and Kelli White at www.nachc.com/client/documents/Vision%20Care.pdf.

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