A Closer Look at H.R. 577

Janet Hughes

Currently there is a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives called the Vision Care for Kids Act of 2009.  This federal legislation hopes to improve the vision care for America’s children.  According to the original bill in Section 2, Congress states these findings: Millions of children in the United States suffer from vision problems, many of which go undetected.  


The real problem

The Vision Care for Kids Act of 2009 aims to provide $65,000,000 over the next five years. Grant money will be awarded as follow-up care to states participating in vision screenings.  

According to the bill, children must be previously referred by vision screenings with a possible vision problem and must not have insurance or coverage under any federal or state programs.

While many children not receiving adequate eye care are from working poor families, lack of vision care is a serious problem affecting children in all economic levels. The National Eye Institute reports: Fewer than 15% of all preschool children receive an eye examination.   

The Vision Care for Kids Act of 2009 addresses only the children who fail a vision screening.  Unfortunately, this bill does not address the true problemthe vision screening system and its substitution for eye examinations. 


Less than meets the eye

The original bill declared in Section 2 that children have refractive errors, amblyopia, strabismus, and various medical eye problems.  However, there was no mention of the vision problem affecting reading and school performance—binocular dysfunction and learning related vision problems. It is estimated that 6% of eye problems are medical. The remaining 94% are vision problems.  

There is a need for education regarding the diagnosis and treatment of all vision problems yet according to the latest version of this bill, no more than 10 percent received under the grant can be applied towards education.

Since vision screenings do not make a diagnosis, children who "pass" will be at risk with undetected eye and vision problems. Children will continue to "fall through the cracks” and remain “left behind” due to vision screenings and the limits contained in this proposed bill.


The final word

The public needs to be informed what eye care professionals have known for years—that a vision screening is not a substitute for an eye examination by an eye doctor. 

Parents should be encouraged to have their children undergo comprehensive eye and vision examinations, not vision screenings.  All children should be examined by an eye doctor, not just those who fail a vision screening.


The Vision Care for Kids Act of 2009 will continue the problem.  It does not address the solution.


UPDATE: Janet Hughes is in the process of recommending language to H.R. 577 that includes grant money for states that require eye exams for children starting school for the first time.

For the complete text of H.R. 577, read here...

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