Gaps in Vision Care Are Growing Concern
The sense that you probably rely on the most is your vision, so it is in your best interest to protect it. You can lose some of your sensitivity in your other senses with little or no consequence, but any reduction in your ability to see can greatly diminish your ability to work, take care of yourself, and enjoy life. That is why new reports showing growing gaps in vision care are so troubling.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reported in 2016 that as many as 16 million Americans have undiagnosed vision problems that could be easily corrected with glasses, contact lenses or surgery. These vision problems are especially challenging for children and may interfere in childhood academic achievement, social development and lifelong health.
Vision Health in America
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers vision impairment a major public health issue due to its toll on the public health system, worker productivity and quality of life. Almost 3.4 million Americans over the age of 40 are blind or at risk of losing their vision. Vision disability is among the top ten disabilities among adults and is the most common disability among minors. The number of eye disease cases in the U.S. is expected to double over the next 30 years as the U.S. public grows older.
The most common serious eye-related ailments in the U.S. include cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. By 2020, it is estimated that there will be 30.1 million cases of cataracts, 7.2 million cases of diabetic retinopathy, 3.3 million cases of glaucoma and 2.9 million cases of age-related macular degeneration.
However, the leading vision health issue in the United States is refractive eye problems. Within this category of vision problems are myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), presbyopia (age-related farsightedness), and astigmatism (distorted vision). Almost one in four children suffer from one or more of these refractive disorders.
In addition to common ailments related to the eye, there are also many injuries involving this precious and sensitive organ. In the U.S. each year, there are almost a million injuries involving the eye and almost 90 percent of these are preventable. More than half of these vision-threatening injuries occur among Americans aged 18 to 45.
Vision Care Gaps in U.S. Health Care
Although there may not be cures for many of these vision health conditions, there are usually treatment options that can slow progression of the disease and help preserve the ability to see. In many cases like those involving glaucoma (which is related to high blood pressure) or diabetic retinopathy, these vision issues can be avoided with early and ongoing medical intervention.
However, too often the obstacle to treating vision problems is unrelated to the availability of medical treatments. The 2005 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) found that 60 percent of those asked did not have an eye exam because of the cost and lack of recognition of a health issue. While this may not pose a serious problem for most people who suffer from only mild refractive vision problems, it is a very serious issue for that small minority that may unknowingly be suffering from the first symptoms of vision loss.
In addition to cost issues and patient complacency, there are other systemic issues that are impeding access to vision care. There are a shrinking number of vision care specialists in the U.S. which is preventing many Americans from finding the care they require. The American Optometric Association currently estimates that there are almost 58,000 eye care professionals working in the U.S. That is one per 3,500 patients which is generally sufficient, but the problem is that most of these professionals operate in heavily populated regions, primarily from retail operations.
For underserved communities with little economic leverage, this ratio may fall to one per 35,000, making it much more difficult to deliver adequate care to the entire community. This is unlikely to change dramatically in the future as more optometry professionals graduate with significant amounts of school debt. The AOA projects that almost 80 percent of optometrists will leave school with $100,000 or more in unpaid loans, forcing most new OD’s to work in more lucrative urban areas.
The supply of vision specialists should grow steadily, but the demand for eye care should skyrocket in coming years as the U.S. population ages. During the period following 2020, the number of Americans with age-related ocular health conditions should grow at an annual rate of 2 percent. This is also supplemented by the many millions of Americans who are newly insured through the Affordable Care Act-sponsored private health insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansions.
How to Protect Your Family’s Eyes
You don’t need to be one of the millions of Americans who experience life with imperfect vision. There are many ways you can help protect the sight of yourself and your family. First of all, make your vision a priority and seek out regular care. This includes having an eye exam at least every two years; if you are advancing in age, it might be good to have your eyes examined once a year.
Minimize any risks to your vision health by following your doctor’s orders. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, stay on your medications and do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If you smoke, it is in your best interest to stop as soon as possible; smoking raises the risk of cataracts, macular degeneration and other eye conditions. When you are outside, protect your eyes from ultraviolet damage by wearing sunglasses with UV protection. Always wear protective eyewear when playing sports or engaging in dangerous activities like home repair.
If you don’t have vision insurance (most health plans don’t include vision), you should visit Boost Health Insurance and join a supplemental vision plan today. Most vision plans only cost a few dollars a month and offer coverage for regular eye exams and routine procedures.
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