Record More than 300 AOA doctor and student volunteers convened in Washington DC this spring for the American Optometric Association’s 2014 Congressional Advocacy Conference (CAC).
The CAC—optometry's largest annual gathering of advocacy leaders—focused the national spotlight on the profession through visits to the offices of every U.S. Senator and House member. ODs played a key role in a series of briefings and forums held around the nation's capital.
Led by AOA President Mitchell T. Munson, O.D., President-elect David A. Cockrell, O.D., and the AOA Board of Trustees, attendees pressed lawmakers on optometry's top priorities, including:
· Full and fair implementation and enforcement of the new Harkin Law that bans health plans—including long-biased ERISA plans—from discriminating against ODs;
· Safeguarding continued full-physician status for doctors of optometry in Medicare and ensuring full-eligibility for new reform-based physician-level payment incentives; and
· Securing new Congressional co-sponsors to AOA-backed bills seeking fair treatment for ODs in Federal health programs (H.R. 855, H.R. 920/S. 1445).
A special summit was held at the beginning of the conference, highlighting a timely issue: the new pediatric essential eye health benefit, which launched earlier this year. The provision ensures that any parent who signs up for new insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as well as some plans outside of the law's marketplaces, gets access to annual comprehensive eye exams, materials, and treatment for their children.
"Optometry's Healthy Vision: The First 100 Days of Essential Pediatric Eye Health Coverage" examined the positive effects of the benefit, which is helping more children meet developmental milestones and find success in school. ODs who are seeing newly covered children were joined by members of Congress, officials from the U.S. Department of Education, children's health and education advocacy groups, and Jennifer Cross, M.D., a leading pediatrician.
“Optometry's advocates are making a real difference in the lives of patients and for the future of their profession,” said Dr. Munson. “But there’s work ahead for the profession. Now that the pediatric essential benefit is law, optometry’s charge is to make comprehensive exams routine practice for all of America’s families. This special summit provided an opportune dialogue about the future of children’s vision.”
An AOA-led briefing on Capitol Hill explored optometry's leadership on improving care for patients with diabetes. Sponsored by the Diabetes Advocacy Alliance—composed of Novo Nordisk, the AOA, and other leading health groups—the briefing served as the Capitol Hill unveiling of new AOA evidence-based guidelines for eye care of the patient with diabetes mellitus.
The AOA's Director of Clinical Resources Beth Kneib, O.D., discussed new challenges and opportunities with the roughly 50 Congressional staffers in attendance. Michael Duenas, O.D., the AOA's chief public health officer, covered policy implications.
Other conference highlights included meetings with U.S. Senate and House members to encourage co-sponsorship of key AOA-backed bills seeking fair treatment for ODs in federal health programs and a policy discussion on Medicare, underscoring the importance of replacing the program's sustainable growth rate payment formula.
Attendees also took advantage of visits with legislators to seek full and fair implementation of the Harkin Law, which prohibits discrimination against ODs. Optometrists and optometry students encouraged their senators to join the law's lead champion, Sen. Tom Harkin, on a committee-level letter urging federal agency officials to scrap misleading and inaccurate sub-regulatory guidance now threatening the law's implementation. Although the AOA has already enlisted the help of leading members of Congress in this effort, a growing number of U.S. Senators are expected to join the fight as a direct result of AOA doctor and student advocacy.
Cataract Is the World’s Leading Cause of Blindness
Cataract is the leading cause of blindness worldwide, and there are more than 24 million Americans age 40 and older who have cataract in the United States alone, according to the Vision Problems in the U.S. report from Prevent Blindness.
The recent “Cost of Vision Problems: The Economic Burden of Vision Loss and Eye Disorders in the United States” report found that, at $10.7 billion, cataract is the second costliest vision disorder (behind refractive error) and the most expensive medical diagnosis.
Direct costs include medical costs for diagnosed disorders, medical costs attributable to low vision, medical vision aids, vision assistive devices and adaptations, and direct services including special education and assistance programs.
Prevent Blindness has declared June as Cataract Awareness Month to educate the public on cataract, risk factors, symptoms and treatment options, including surgery. Free information is provided through its dedicated web page at preventblindness.org/cataract.
For those interested in conducting discussions or seminars on the subject, Prevent Blindness also offers a free online module on cataract including a PowerPoint presentation with a complete guide as part of its Healthy Eyes Educational Series.
The exact cause of a cataract is unknown. Most often, a cataract is part of getting older. With age comes a greater risk of developing a cataract. There are also several possible risk factors for cataracts, such as:
· Intense heat or long-term exposure to UV rays from the sun
· Certain diseases, such as diabetes
· Inflammation in the eye
· Hereditary influences
· Events before birth, such as German measles in the mother
· Long-term steroid use
· Eye injuries
· Eye diseases
“The best thing we can do to protect our vision is to get regular eye exams,” said Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness. “We can also save our vision by maintaining healthy lifestyles like eating leafy green vegetables, exercising and quitting smoking. All we do to benefit our overall health can benefit our eyes as well!”
For free information on cataract, visit the Prevent Blindness website at preventblindness.org/cataract. For information on insurance benefits, including Medicare coverage, free facts can be found at preventblindness.org.