by Ellen Troyer, MT, MA
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) doesn’t pay for Medicare and Medicaid routine eye exams for disease prevention but it does cover diagnosed disease identified in self-pay routine eye exams.
This leaves an ever-growing segment of the adult US population with limited access to eye care professionals, dramatically increasing the risk of vision impairment and costly undiagnosed and untreated eye disease. Painless, slow to develop eye disease does not alert the resource-stretched public to seek out preventive eye care.
Back in 2012, the National Eye Institute (NEI) estimated that the annual cost of vision impairment to the United States private and public sectors exceeded $68 billion. And this number did not fully quantify the impact of lost productivity, diminished quality of life, increased depression and accelerated mortality.
This financial burden is expected to increase dramatically by the year 2020 as the number of seniors increases. The NEI recognizes vision impairment as a major public health problem that is:
- growing ever larger due to an aging population;
- disproportionately incident in minority population;
- a significant co-morbid condition based on the ever-growing diabetes epidemic, specifically diabetic retinopathy.
In public opinion polls over the past 40 years, Americans have consistently identified fear of vision loss as second only to fear of cancer. Blindness or low vision currently affects more than three million Americans age 40 plus or one in 28 people, and is projected to reach 5.5 million by the year 2020.
The societal implications of visual impairment are important, because the last census counted more than 119 million Americans age 40 plus who are most at risk.
The ever-expanding population at risk of vision loss increasingly demands more focus on developing lifestyle habits that support eye health, as well as new and more effective therapies that support the prevention of vision loss.
Hopefully, preventive eye care will work its way to the forefront of presidential election discussions because disease prevention costs our government far less than disease treatment.
Given that vision loss is projected to quickly become one of the major health problems and expenses in our country, it becomes imperative that eye health professionals focus on degenerative-disease prevention and patient education that explains the eye health benefits of lifestyle choices including smoking cessation, healthy diets, supplements, weight control, exercise, stress reduction and limited alcohol intake as a part of every eye exam.