AOA sees positives in federal children’s eye health legislation

May 29, 2024
The federal effort to promote early detection of pediatric vision impairments comes as the AOA works toward a multi-year, national eye health and vision mobilization for children.
Children's Eye Health: Young girl making a heart sign in front of eyes

A federal plan for supporting children’s access to eye health and vision care services gains AOA backing while the association champions a multi-year, cross-industry pediatric mobilization. 

Introduced by U.S. Reps. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, and Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., on May 14, H.R. 8400, the “Early Detection of Vision Impairments in Children (EDVI) Act,” would create new funding opportunities for state, community and tribal authorities to establish initiatives that promote early identification, intervention and referral for children with vision problems. EDVI is significant as there is no federally funded program that specifically addresses children’s vision, unlike public health programs targeting children’s hearing or oral health. 

“The disparity in access to children’s vision care is a crisis that can only be solved by unifying the industry,” noted AOA President Steven T. Reed, O.D. “With most learning, cognition and perception abilities mediated through vision, there is a clear and present need to activate solutions that will close the eye health and vision care gap before it adversely impacts more children’s literacy, visual efficiency and perceptual skills.” 

What would EDVI do? 

Specifically, EDVI would authorize the Health Resources and Services Administration to establish grant opportunities and cooperative agreements for states, communities and tribes to: 

  • Implement early detection practices and intervention initiatives for the purpose of identifying vision concerns in children to promote referrals for eye care and establish follow-up mechanisms to ensure care was received;
  • Raise awareness to the public of the importance of vision and eye health in children;
  • Reduce disparities in eye health; and/or,
  • Develop state-based data collection, surveillance and performance improvement systems. 

The EDVI would make resources available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish a national-level technical assistance center to provide guidance to any state or community implementing, updating or improving children’s vision programs, to promote surveillance and to advance population health research priorities in children’s vision. Additionally, EDVI encourages collaboration across agencies under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Education. 

“Children’s vision and eye health is a critical aspect of a child’s healthy development that has been overlooked for far too long,” said Rep. Veasey in a news release. “Healthy vision plays a key role in each child’s performance in school—when a child cannot see, their education suffers. Texas families and children across the country deserve equitable access to early detection and care for vision issues, whether at school, in the community, or across the health care spectrum. The Early Detection of Vision Impairments for Children Act will ensure children, their parents, and their caregivers can access the eye care they need to thrive and succeed.” 

Adds Rep. Bilirakis: “As an American who has suffered from poor vision since childhood, I have firsthand understanding of how critical early detection and treatment is when it comes to ensuring that all children have the best possible start in life. Our landmark bill will ensure all children get the screening and care they need at the right age by creating the first-ever federally funded program to address children’s vision and eye health. This legislation will empower states and communities, like mine, to improve systems of care for our youngest citizens and their families.” 

The AOA joins a broad range of public health organizations supporting the legislation, both in eye care and in children’s welfare. 

Why does AOA support EDVI? 

Pediatric eye health and vision care has long been a critical issue championed by the AOA and doctors of optometry with the AOA launching a National Pediatric Eye Health and Vision Mobilization in 2023. That multi-year initiative seeks to address children’s access to comprehensive and pediatric eye health and vision care by: 

  • Advocating for federal policies and programs that ensure children’s eye care;
  • Creating an evidence-based playbook for expanding advocacy efforts into children’s eye care;
  • Addressing access to care, especially for underserved communities; and
  • Driving public awareness and education for children’s eye care and access.

Launched at Optometry’s Meeting®, the AOA’s National Pediatric Eye Health and Vision Mobilization would close the gap in care created by access disparities and hastened by the consequences of accelerated screentime usage during the pandemic. 

Failure to treat childhood vision problems in the short-term, the AOA notes, can impede academic performance and development, while in the long-term, lead to permanent vision impairment or blindness that might persist into adulthood. Such is the case, EDVI would ensure that every child with a potential vision problem is identified and connected to appropriate eye care as early as possible to receive a diagnosis and necessary treatment. 

The AOA, in conferring with both its InfantSEE® and Children’s Vision and Federal Relations committees, determined its support for this important legislation could make an outsized impact for America’s children. 

Become an InfantSEE provider 

An initiative of The AOA Foundation, InfantSEE providers offer no-charge, comprehensive eye assessments to infants between the ages of 6 to 12 months regardless of family income or access to insurance coverage. Since its inception in 2005, InfantSEE has provided over 150,000 assessments and identified over 13,700 infants with causes for concern. 

Looking for pediatric eye care resources? Doctors can access the AOA’s children’s vision resources to educate their communities, as well as the AOA’s evidence-based clinical practice guideline, Comprehensive Pediatric Eye and Vision Examination, or the Infant & Children’s Vision Toolkit from InfantSEE. 

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