IN SUPPORT OF THE NATIONAL VISION STRATEGY -- (Extensions of Remarks - May 05, 2004)
HON. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
WEDNESDAY, MAY 5, 2004
Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Speaker, as a Co-Chair of the Congressional Vision Caucus, I would like to recognize May as Healthy Vision Month, and to discuss the important recommendations of the Vision Problems Action Plan, A National Public Health Strategy as a way to prevent blindness and vision loss.
Good vision is critical to conducting activities of daily living, is a portal for language, and affects developmental learning, communicating, working, and quality of life.
Unfortunately, a large number of people are at risk for losing their vision. More than 80 million Americans have a potentially blinding eye disease, 3 million have low vision, 1.1 million are legally blind, and an additional 200,000 are more severely visually impaired. Despite the fact that half of all blindness can be prevented, far too many people do not access the care they need. If we do not take action, the number of blind and visually impaired individuals will double by 2030.
Awareness, early diagnosis and prevention are crucial for all. Healthy Vision Month, a component of Healthy People 2010, is a national eye health campaign to raise awareness about the various conditions that can affect eyesight and cause vision loss.
This week, a coalition of leading eye health experts, including Prevent Blindness America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lighthouse International, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology, released the Vision Problems Action Plan, A National Public Health Strategy. This important document will provide our nation with a framework for preventing vision loss.
This groundbreaking study recommends that, in order to reduce the occurrence of vision loss and its accompanying disabilities, our nation must concentrate our efforts three priority areas: prevention/public health, access to care and treatment including rehabilitation, and research.
Our public health and prevention campaign must ensure that vision programs at the National Eye Institute (NEI) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have the resources they need to improve communication and education campaigns, increase surveillance, epidemiology and prevention research; and implement appropriate programs, policies and systems changes.
In order to ensure access to and availability of treatment and rehabilitation services for individuals with vision loss, we must support programs at the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that remove barriers and improve access to eye exams currently covered under Medicare, such as diabetic eye exams and glaucoma detection for high risk populations.
We must also strengthen the Medicare program to advance coverage for Medicare vision rehabilitation services as provided by orientation and mobility specialists, rehabilitation teachers and low-vision therapists including in patients homes and their environment.
Finally, we must bolster our research efforts to improve our understanding of the eye and visual system in health and disease, as well as developing the most appropriate and effective means of prevention, and access to treatment and rehabilitation.
This report provides the roadmap we need to raise awareness about vision loss, give individuals the tools they need to prevent it, and give hope to the millions already suffering from vision loss that better treatments for can be found.
We would like to thank all of the organizations involved in drafting this report, including the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Optometric Association, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, Lighthouse International, the National Alliance For Eye and Vision Research, the National Eye Institute (NEI) and most importantly, Prevent Blindness America. Prevent Blindness America should be commended for spearheading this effort, for bringing together these various groups, and for its almost century-long tradition of preventing vision loss.