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Eye Care Checkups Tied to Insurance Status

Those with little or no coverage less likely to have exams, even if they have problems, study finds

FRIDAY, March 13 (HealthDay News) -- Americans with inconsistent health-care coverage, or no health care coverage, are less likely to get regular eye care, even if they have vision problems, according to a new study.

The finding stems from a review of data on almost 290,000 adults who took part in the National Health Interview Survey from 1997 through 2005.

Respondents who said they sought eye care in the previous year included about 58 percent of those with severe visual impairment, 50 percent of those with some visual impairment and 34 percent of those with no visual impairment. Among people without health insurance, eye care visits were reported by about 36 percent of those with severe vision impairment, 24 percent who had some impairment and 14 percent with no visual impairment.

The lowest rates of eye care visits were reported by people without health insurance for a year or more. In this group, eye care visits were reported by 11 percent of those with no visual impairment, 20 percent who had some impairment and 34 percent with severe vision impairment.

"Interventions designed to increase eye care utilization rates in select socio-demographic subgroups are needed," wrote David J. Lee, of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and his colleagues. "Overall utilization rates may also be enhanced if progress is made toward dramatically increasing the number of Americans with health insurance."

The study was published in the March issue of Archives of Ophthalmology.

The researchers "assert that providing universal vision care coverage would insure that financial resources are no longer a barrier for those seeking access to a vision care provider," Steven M. Kymes and Kevin D. Frick, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, wrote in an accompanying editorial. "However, we must also consider whether this would indeed be the most effective method to achieve the social goal of increased use of vision care services."

"Lee and his colleagues have made an important contribution to this growing literature by examining barriers to vision care," the editorial said. "However, the principles of scientific inquiry should not be shortchanged simply because we are debating a policy question rather than a biochemical one. The vision care community has an obligation to fully consider alternative solutions and their consequences in seeking ways to remove barriers to vision care."

More information

The U.S. National Eye Institute has more about financial aid for eye care.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, March 9, 2009

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