Seniors may be unaware a local ophthalmologist provides free eye examinations and follow-up care under a national eye care program.
The service is under the umbrella of EyeCare America the public service foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, committed to the preservation of sight, accomplishing its mission through public service and education.
More than 7,300 ophthalmologists including Norwalk's Dr. Kerry Allen provide free eye care services to the medically underserved and for those at increased risk for eye disease.
Allen said he's cared for about a half-dozen patients a year in a decade or so of participating in EyeCare America. He added they run the gamut from immigrant migrant workers to local needy individuals. Some have lived with a vision-related problem for years, unable to afford medical care, until they learned about EyeCare America, Allen said.
"I hate to think that there are people out there with reversible vision loss (who) are not being cared for because they're worrying about money," he said.
More than 90 percent of the care made available is provided with no out-of-pocket cost to the patients; the program is funded by individuals, foundations and corporations.
All seniors 65 and older who are U.S. citizens or legal residents, and who have not been to an ophthalmologist in the last three years, are eligible for the program. Those who belong to an HMO or the VA are not eligible, due to the unique constraints of those systems.
An ophthalmologist is a medical eye doctor who can treat all eye conditions, while optometrists are trained eye care professionals who are not medical doctors. People 65 and older should see an ophthalmologist every one to two years, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
By age 65, one in three Americans has some form of vision impairing eye disease. As the population of older adults grows larger, the academy estimates the number of people with visual impairment will increase.
All the volunteer ophthalmologists have agreed to accept Medicare or other insurance reimbursement as payment in full, with no out-of-pocket cost to the patient. Those patients without insurance of any kind, including Medicare, receive care at no charge.
Eyeglasses, prescriptions, hospital services and fees of other medical professionals are not covered. But, EyeCare America tries to work with hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and other organizations to make the additional fees manageable, if they're found to be necessary.
The program works like this: A person calls the toll-free Helpline at (800) 222-EYES (3937). If they are eligible, a representative matches them through a zip code search with a volunteer ophthalmologist in their area. You do not have to be financially disadvantaged; Eye Care America provides care to seniors without an ophthalmologist.
The physician provides a comprehensive medical eye examination and care for any condition diagnosed during the initial visit for up to one year. The EyeCare America Help Line is open 24 hours a day, every day, year-round.