Individuals with vision insurance are more likely than those without it to have had recent eye care visits, and to have no difficulty reading printed matter or recognizing their friends from across the street, report US researchers.
The findings also show that almost half of the more than 27,000 US individuals who reported having glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), and/or cataracts had no vision insurance.
The timely detection and treatment of these conditions is critical to prevent patients reaching the often irreversible visual field impairments that occur, suggest the researchers.
To address this, Sudha Xirasagar (University of South Carolina, Columbia) and colleagues suggest that "vision insurance should cease to be a separate insurance benefit and should be mandatory in all health plans."
The study cohort included 27,152 participants of the 2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) vision module who were aged between 40 and 64 years, likely to be without Medicare coverage, and "at risk for eye diseases that cause gradual vision loss" but are preventable, write the researchers in the Archives of Ophthalmology.
A total of 11.6% of the cohort reported having glaucoma, ARMD, and/or cataracts, and reported having "some" or "extreme" difficulty recognizing friends across the street and reading printed material 23.6% and 2.8% and 37.1% and 5.9% of the time, respectively. The corresponding rates of "some" or "extreme" difficulty for participants without those conditions were 13.3%, 0.8%, 30.4%, and 3.4%.
Overall, 39.4% of the cohort had no vision insurance, despite 87.3% having general health insurance, report the authors, and of those with general health plans, 68.6% also had vision insurance.
Adjusted analysis showed that participants with vision insurance were 1.9 times as likely as those without it to have had an eye care visit in the previous 12 months, while those in the eye-disease subsample with insurance were 2.15 times as likely.
Vision insurance also significantly increased the chances of reporting good vision, by 1.20- and 1.30-fold for recognizing friends across the street and reading printed material among those in the disease-free subgroup, respectively, and a corresponding 1.50- and 1.40-fold for participants in the eye-disease subgroup.
Having general health insurance did not predict vision status in either subgroup, note the researchers.
"A significant policy implication is that policy makers and researchers should revisit the widespread assumption that health insurance implies coverage for essential health care services needed for preserving general physical health," conclude Xirasagar et al.
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