Optometry Backs Bill to Expand Access to Eye and Vision Care in Medically Underserved Areas

AOA Supports Efforts by Reps. Bart Gordon and Joe Pitts to Help Rural and

Urban Americans

Apr 18, 2007, 01:00 ET from American Optometric Association

    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.
 Gordon said
     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
 of Optometry.
     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.
     Media Contacts:
     Jon Hymes
     Ken Chitester

SOURCE American Optometric Association