OD and patient

Why eye care is essential for community health centers

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), demand for eye and vision services will increase. Because of this, AOA Health Center Committee members believe these services will become crucial for every community health center (CHC).

Committee members recently published an overview of the issue, "Vision Care: the Next Essential Service in Community Health Centers," in Community Forum, the journal of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC).

Fewer than 10 percent of these centers offer comprehensive eye and vision care onsite.

CHCs will play a major role in delivering the essential health care services covered under the ACA next year, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). Those services include eye care and children's vision care.

That means eye and vision care must now be considered an essential service in all 9,000 of the nation's federally qualified CHCs, according to the committee's article. However, fewer than 10 percent of these centers offer comprehensive eye and vision care onsite currently, said Lillian Kalaczinski, O.D., chair of the committee.

Optometrists will have a larger role to play, and it's clear that more CHCs need onsite eye and vision care services. With this in mind, the AOA offers a variety of resources to assist optometrists in providing eye and vision care at CHCs or in their practices through contracts with CHCs.

More demand, more need

Some 30 million Americans are expected to enroll in new ACA health insurance plans, with 7 million during 2014 alone, according to the HHS. CHCs, which were established specifically to provide care for disadvantaged populations, will serve a sizable percentage of the newly insured.

In the article, Dr. Kalaczinski and her fellow authors noted the specific needs of the racial minorities and economically disadvantaged populations seen in health centers. They have much higher instances of both serious eye conditions and systemic illness with ocular manifestations (notably diabetes) than the U.S. population as a whole.

Disadvantaged children often have uncorrected vision problems that can lead to underachievement in school, studies show. Adults and children diagnosed with or at risk for eye conditions are far more likely to receive the care they need if it is available right away than if they are referred to a separate provider, studies also show.

October 15, 2013

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