A Letter to the 115th Congress

Dear Members of the 115th United States Congress:

Your work in this new session of Congress is well underway.  Already this session you are discussing the repeal or replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  I ask you to think about America’s children as you discuss repealing or making changes to this important legislation. The repeal of this legislation without a viable alternative for this coverage would affect the health of millions of children.  

The ACA currently provides comprehensive coverage for children for eye exams and glasses, an important preventative care measure for children, as one of ten essential health benefits in the ACA’s individual and small group federal exchange.  This coverage has made a huge difference in the lives of many children allowing them to receive needed eye care and improve their readiness for performance in school.  Prior to the implementation of the ACA many parents were unaware that their child had a vision problem and many struggled to pay for previously uncovered services on their own such as an eye exam and glasses.

Eighty percent of learning is visual and currently typical vision screenings conducted as a part of state mandates for school health screenings miss 1 out of 3 children with significant vision and eye health problems. Instrument based vision screening programs such as the Colorado Lions KidSight Program and other similar efforts across the country provide more effective vision screening than standard school testing.  Instrument based screening in combination with the covered vision services under the ACA are helping many children by identifying and correcting vision problems before they affect academic performance.

Since we have been conducting instrument based screening in Colorado and with the implementation of the ACA our program has noticed important cost savings for insurers as well as schools and parents.  Students are being identified with correctable vision problems before they develop into bigger vision issues such as amblyopia (lazy eye) or other health related problems which are more serious and more expensive to treat.  Schools are able to identify and notify parents of vision issues more quickly before learning is affected.  In a number of cases children being evaluated for special education services have simply had a correctable vision problem rather than requiring  special education special services that are expensive for schools to provide. Changes in behavior, self esteem and coordination also result from something as simple as correction of a vision problem.

Our collaborative effort in Colorado works to identify children like Abigail who was recently screened by our program.  A vision problem was detected and her parents took her in for an eye exam.  Not only did they detect a problem requiring glasses but they also detected a spot on her eye which puts Abigail at risk for melanoma (cancer).  She now will be monitored every six months to make sure her eye remains healthy.

Despite the implementation of the ACA nationwide in Colorado we have more work to do to make sure our children receive the same benefits as those provided to children covered under the federal ACA exchange.  Our current state health exchange as approved by the Colorado Legislature only provides coverage for the eye exam for children and does not cover glasses for a vision problem.  It seems that we may not all be created equal under our laws depending upon the state where we live.

Millions of Americans have been able to obtain health insurance, many for the first time, due to the Affordable Care Act.  In Colorado alone more than 419,000 people have gained health insurance through our state exchange program.  A repeal of the ACA means that those who are currently covered under the exchange will no longer have the preventative and primary care services they need which often detect problems early before they become more serious and expensive to treat.

Given the importance of good vision for our nation’s children we urge the Senate and the House of Representative to work together to ensure that our children can continue to have a bright and healthy future and they are counting on you to do so.

Sincerely,

Jeanne Barrett, Chair

Holly Rutherford-Allen, Executive Director

Colorado Lions KidSight Program