Did you know a pair of eyeglasses can save a life?
In 2014, optometrists detected early signs of diabetes in nearly a quarter million Americans who didn’t know they had the chronic, sight-robbing and deadly disease. Early detection makes an enormous difference, yet many people won’t get crucial eye examinations if they know they can’t afford new glasses.
That’s why the California Optometric Association and VSP pushed to restore benefits for eyeglasses and vision aids for Medi-Cal recipients in this year’s state budget package.
Our firsthand experience backs up research that says patients are two to three times more likely to visit their optometrist for an eye exam when they have insurance coverage for glasses. Even among patients diagnosed with diabetes, only 54 percent regularly obtain necessary eye exams.
So when Great Recession-era cuts in Medi-Cal eliminated eyeglass coverage for millions of adults, California lost an important tool in the fight against diabetes, the leading cause of blindness in individuals under the age of 74.
The diabetes epidemic is exploding across California. More than half of Californians are living with diabetes or are at risk for the disease; Latinos and African Americans experience diabetes at twice the rate of whites. We spent $27 billion treating diabetes in 2012 alone.
Investment in eye care is a crucial and cost-effective public health strategy to detect, manage and treat diabetes in the most at-risk populations.
We applaud Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature for restoring this crucial component of Medi-Cal coverage, starting in 2020.
Sage Hider is president of the California Optometric Association and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kate Renwick-Espinosa is president of Rancho Cordova-based VSP, the nation’s largest vision insurer, and can be contacted at KateRe@vsp.com.