Expanding Eye and Vision Care in Medically Underserved Areas

Legislation to Expand Access to Eye and Vision Care in Medically Underserved Areas

The American Optometric Association, the voice of 34,000 frontline providers of eye and vision care in communities across America, declared its support for legislation introduced in Congress by Reps. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) and Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) aimed at expanding access to eye and vision care in medically underserved communities across america.

Reps. Gordon and Pitts, leaders in Congress on health care access issues, introduced HR 1884, the “National Health Service Corps Improvement Act of 2007.” The bill seeks to build on a successful federal incentive program to develop new links between highly qualified doctors of optometry and communities in rural and urban areas with limited access to eye and vision care services.

“The exclusion of optometrists from the NHSC student loan program has resulted in severely restricted access to primary eye care services,” Rep. Gordon said.

Rep. Pitts agreed, saying, “This legislation corrects this error and ensures that families already struggling with spiraling health care costs can see a local eye doctor when they need to.”

The NHSC provides access to quality health care services for millions of Americans who might otherwise be forced to do without. As part of this mission, the NHSC student loan repayment program helps bring together dedicated health care providers with the rural and urban community health centers that need their services.

The program provides financial support specifically aimed at easing the debt burden associated with a professional education, and allows carefully selected clinicians — including primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, dentists, mental and behavioral health professionals, physician assistants, certified nurse-midwives and dental hygienists — to undertake an extraordinary, multi-year commitment to safeguarding public health.

“Reps. Bart Gordon and Joe Pitts are committed to ensuring that Americans in medically underserved areas, including our seniors, veterans and children, are able to get the eye and vision care services they need and deserve,” said C. Tommy Crooks, O.D., president of the AOA. “Optometrists across the country are proud of Rep. Gordon’s and Rep. Pitts’ strong leadership on health care access issues, and are ready to meet the challenge to get care where it is needed most.”

Since the NHSC student loan repayment program was restructured in 2002, it has been made far less effective by the exclusion of doctors of optometry, the nation’s frontline providers of eye and vision care. Today, only about 17 percent of community health centers have an optometrist on staff, which severely restricts access to primary eye care services, including comprehensive eye exams; detecting and diagnosing eye diseases like glaucoma, cataracts, retinal disorders and eye infections; treating eye diseases and evaluating and treating presbyopia and other vision conditions.

“Including optometry students in the National Health Service Corps Program will help expand the public’s access to preventive eye care services in underserved areas while offering students needed scholarships and loan repayment opportunities at a time of rising student debt,” said Dr. Hector Santiago, president of the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry.

In addition to backing from the AOA, HR 1884 is also supported by the Tennessee Optometric Association, the Pennsylvania Optometric Association, the American Optometric Student Association and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry.

Source: PR Newswire/American Optometric Association

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