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Almost a quarter of a century ago, the American Academy of Ophthalmology took a proactive stance to address eye care for indigent patients in the United States.
The mission of EyeCare America is to preserve sight by raising awareness about eye disease and to provide access to medical care. EyeCare America, chaired by Richard Mills, MD, has multiple programs:
• The Seniors EyeCare Program, chaired by David Palmer, MD, is the oldest of these programs. This particular program provides eye care for U.S. citizens and legal residents who are 65 years and older and have not had an eye exam for ≥3 years. To receive the care, one requirement patients must meet is that they cannot belong to a health maintenance organization or receive eye care through the Veterans Administration.
"The advantage of this program for the individuals who qualify is that they can receive a referral for a comprehensive medical eye examination and up to 1 year of care at no out-of-pocket cost for any condition diagnosed," said Dr. Coleman, the Fran and Ray Stark professor of ophthalmology, Jules Stein Eye Institute, University of California, Los Angeles.
• The Glaucoma EyeCare Program, chaired by Richard Wilson, MD, also was initiated. Like the Seniors EyeCare Program, this initiative is open to U.S. citizens and legal residents who are at increased risk for developing glaucoma based on age, race, and family history. Individuals qualify for care through this program if they have not had an eye examination for ≥12 months. Eligible individuals receive a free glaucoma eye examination if they are uninsured. If they are insured, their insurance program is charged for the exam.
Dr. Coleman recounted the results of this public health outreach effort. Within the past year, she said 29,211 individuals contacted EyeCare America for referrals for eye care.
Of those individuals, 11,641 were insured and 8,576 were uninsured. A total of 19,452 were ≥41 years, including 13,480 aged ≥61 years. Fewer than one quarter (7,113) of the individuals who contacted EyeCare America were ineligible for free care, but they received information about the importance of routine eye care, and a list of other national resources.
A total of 13,356 individuals received a referral through EyeCare America. They were matched with the nearest volunteer ophthalmologist and were provided the name and information to call for an appointment. At the time of the examination, the ophthalmologist completes a form to return to EyeCare America that documents the visit. About 32% (4,274) of those referred were documented as seen by the ophthalmologist.
Dr. Coleman urged ophthalmologists to volunteer for this program. About 7,000 AAO members have done so already. Go to http://www.eyecareamerica.org/ for more information about EyeCare America.
Anne L. Coleman, MD, PhD
Dr. Coleman has no financial interest in the subject matter. EyeCare America is co-sponsored by Alcon Laboratories Inc., the Knights Templar Eye Foundation Inc., and Pfizer Ophthalmics, and is endorsed by state and subspecialty ophthalmological societies.