Article Date: 6/1/2009

Pirates of the Corneal Abrasion: Curse of the Black Patch
From the AOSA

Showing Compassion Where It Counts

Optometrists step up to the plate to care for America's uninsured.

By Erich Hinel
Vice President, AOSA

AMID A BUSY POLITICAL year in which health care has been thrust to the top of Washington's agenda, I'm sure it's no secret to you that more than 45 million Americans are uninsured.1 However, you may not know that 14 million Americans have a visual impairment simply because they can't afford access to basic eye care.2 This is a shocking number, especially considering that eye and vision care is one of the most cost-effective healthcare services available. Optometry, as the primary eyecare profession in the United States, must stand united to confront this crisis.

AOA Down in the Trenches

The American Optometric Association (AOA) has answered the call and is committed to tackling the issue from all directions. On the legislative front, the AOA is backing the National Health Service Corps Improvement Act, a bill aimed to expand access to eye care in under-served areas, while addressing issues of student debt.

Giving Back

The AOA is also doing its part to provide services for uninsured individuals. In addition to its nationally recognized InfantSEE® program, a public health initiative that offers a one-time, no-cost eye and vision assessment for infants 6 to 12 months old, the AOA has established a public health program called Vision USA. Vision USA aims to provide eye and vision care free of charge to uninsured, low-income working Americans who don't qualify for government or private healthcare assistance. Last year, more than 10,000 patients were matched with one of nearly 3,800 volunteering doctors to receive the essential eye care they needed. This illustrates a great deal of compassion and shows the willingness of our profession to give back to our communities.

Volunteers Needed

Despite the overwhelming achievements of the program, there's certainly room for improvement. Each month, Vision USA receives an average of 1,500 applications from uninsured Americans across the country. Shortages of volunteering doctors in some areas, like Michigan and Florida, have left qualified patients unable to receive necessary eye and vision care. Doctors who join the program make a commitment to donate just eight eye exams each year, which can mean a remarkable difference in the lives of those patients.

Rallying Cry

We're all well aware of the strong link between healthy vision and successful education and employment, and for this reason, our profession must take advantage of every opportunity to help those in need. The ultimate success of this program depends on us. I challenge the readers of new OD to participate in the Vision USA program. For more information on Vision USA, or to sign up to be a volunteering doctor, visit aoa.org. nOD

References

  1. “Census Bureau Revises 2004 and 2005 Health Insurance Coverage Estimates,” U.S. Census Bureau News, March 23, 2007. Visit snipurl.com/uninsured.
  2. “Millions of Americans are Visually Impaired Because They Lack Needed Eyeglasses,” Prevent Blindness America. Visit snipurl.com/impairment.
Mr. Hinel graduated from Grand Valley State University with a degree in Biomedical Science. He's a fourth year student at The OSU College of Optometry, pursuing both OD and MS degrees. He's serving as vice president of the AOSA. You can reach him at EHinel@theaosa.org.


Optometric Management, Issue: June 2009