WASHINGTON, April 18 /PRNewswire/ -- The American Optometric
Association, the voice of 34,000 frontline providers of eye and vision care
in communities across America, declared its support for legislation
introduced in Congress Tuesday by Reps. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) and Joe Pitts
(R-Pa.) aimed at expanding access to eye and vision care in medically
underserved communities across America.
Reps. Gordon and Pitts, leaders in Congress on health care access
issues, introduced HR 1884, the "National Health Service Corps Improvement
Act of 2007." The bill seeks to build on a successful federal incentive
program to develop new links between highly qualified doctors of optometry
and communities in rural and urban areas with limited access to eye and
vision care services.
"The exclusion of optometrists from the NHSC student loan program has
resulted in severely restricted access to primary eye care services," Rep.
Rep. Pitts agreed, saying, "This legislation corrects this error and
ensures that families already struggling with spiraling health care costs
can see a local eye doctor when they need to."
The NHSC provides access to quality health care services for millions
of Americans who might otherwise be forced to do without. As part of this
mission, the NHSC student loan repayment program helps bring together
dedicated health care providers with the rural and urban community health
centers that need their services.
The program provides financial support specifically aimed at easing the
debt burden associated with a professional education, and allows carefully
selected clinicians -- including primary care physicians, nurse
practitioners, dentists, mental and behavioral health professionals,
physician assistants, certified nurse-midwives and dental hygienists -- to
undertake an extraordinary, multi-year commitment to safeguarding public
"Reps. Bart Gordon and Joe Pitts are committed to ensuring that
Americans in medically underserved areas, including our seniors, veterans
and children, are able to get the eye and vision care services they need
and deserve," said C. Tommy Crooks, O.D., president of the AOA.
"Optometrists across the country are proud of Rep. Gordon's and Rep. Pitts'
strong leadership on health care access issues, and are ready to meet the
challenge to get care where it is needed most."
Since the NHSC student loan repayment program was restructured in 2002,
it has been made far less effective by the exclusion of doctors of
optometry, the nation's frontline providers of eye and vision care. Today,
only about 17 percent of community health centers have an optometrist on
staff, which severely restricts access to primary eye care services,
including comprehensive eye exams; detecting and diagnosing eye diseases
like glaucoma, cataracts, retinal disorders and eye infections; treating
eye diseases and evaluating and treating presbyopia and other vision
"Including optometry students in the National Health Service Corps
Program will help expand the public's access to preventive eye care
services in underserved areas while offering students needed scholarships
and loan repayment opportunities at a time of rising student debt," said
Dr. Hector Santiago, president of the Association of Schools and Colleges
In addition to backing from the AOA, HR 1884 is also supported by the
Tennessee Optometric Association, the Pennsylvania Optometric Association,
the American Optometric Student Association and the Association of Schools
and Colleges of Optometry.
About the American Optometric Association (AOA):
The American Optometric Association represents more than 34,000 doctors
of optometry, optometry students and paraoptometric assistants and
technicians. Optometrists provide more than two-thirds of all primary eye
care in the United States and serve patients in nearly 6,500 communities
across the country. In 3,500 of those communities they are the only eye
American Optometric Association doctors of optometry are highly
qualified, trained doctors on the frontline of eye and vision care who
examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases and disorders of the eye. In
addition to providing eye and vision care, optometrists play a major role
in a patient's overall health and well-being by detecting systemic diseases
such as diabetes and hypertension.
Prior to optometry school, optometrists undergo three to four years of
undergraduate study that typically culminates in a bachelor's degree with
extensive, required coursework in areas such as advanced health, science
and mathematics. Optometry school consists of four years of post-graduate,
doctoral study concentrating on both the eye and systemic health. In
addition to their formal training, doctors of optometry must undergo annual
continuing education to stay current on the latest standards of care. For
more information, visit http://www.aoa.org.
SOURCE American Optometric Association