Household budget cutbacks in health care could have serious consequences

Household budget cutbacks are becoming commonplace as most Americans struggle to make ends meet, but experts warn that health care needs should not be among the forfeited services.

Recent research indicates that more than 20 percent of people have cut back on medical visits to save money and The Vision Council warns that this cost-saving strategy could have serious consequences.

"During this economic crisis, people might decide that they cannot afford to pay for preventive health care," said Ed Greene, CEO of The Vision Council. "While forgoing such care as a regular eye exam may seem like the only option during these tough times, it is a sacrifice that may come with a high price."

Vision disorders are the second most prevalent health problem in the country, affecting more than 120 million people, so the effect of postponing or avoiding eye care because of the cost -- which 40 percent of Americans report doing -- could be dangerous. Many vision-threatening conditions have no early warning signs and eye exams can also detect other serious health problems including diabetes and hypertension.

According to a report recently issued by The Vision Council, two-thirds of Americans say they would be more willing to get an eye exam if they had some vision coverage, yet only 17 percent of employers report offering vision insurance. Uncorrected vision problems also have an impact on the bottom line for employers, costing more than $8 billion in lost productivity every year.

For those who lack vision insurance, or even those whose benefits don't cover all the costs associated with an eye exam, one way to make maintaining healthy vision more affordable is to use funds in a flexible spending account (FSA) toward that care. FSAs enable participants to use pre-tax income to pay for out-of-pocket health expenses, such as an eye exam or a new pair of eyeglasses. These pre-tax dollars are set aside at the beginning of the year and must be used by the end of the year or the funds are forfeited.

"A regular eye exam is the best way to keep your eyes healthy and your eyeglass prescription current," reminds Greene. "Many times an eye doctor can see things you can't."

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