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Public support needed for landmark pediatric vision and eye health legislation

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New bipartisan legislation introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives this week seeks to improve pediatric vision and eye health across the country via state and community grant funding.

Let’s start with the basics.

On May 14, the Early Detection of Vision Impairments in Children (EDVI) Act of 2024 was introduced into the House by U.S. Reps Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) and Marc Veasey (TX-33), both co-chairs of the Congressional Vision Caucus (CVC).

Note: The CVC is a bipartisan coalition of congressional members working to strengthen and advance national policy on vision-related issues and disabilities.

Tell me more.

First things first, the problem: There’s currently no national-level vision and eye health program established specifically for children.

  • In fact, over 1 in 4 children in the U.S. (approximately 19.6 million) are reported to have a vision disorder that requires diagnosis and treatment.

To change this: The EDVI Act intends to ensure that pediatric patients with potential vision problems are identified and connected to receive appropriate eye care within their state/local communities.

How this will be done: By supporting and providing schools, early childhood professionals, healthcare providers (HCPs), public health professionals, and families with the following resources:

  • Updated/evidence-based vision screening methods
  • Improved eye care referrals
  • Advanced follow-up protocols to ensure early diagnosis and treatment

Why focus on state and local communities?

Bigger picture: The national government and healthcare agencies (including the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force [USPSTF]) have stressed the critical need for both early detection and early intervention of pediatric vision disorders.

And quite simply: The state/local community level has been deemed in the best position to establish and implement a public health system of care for this patient base due to the level of access and potential resources.

The crux of this, however: There’s currently no federally funded U.S. program to address this gap in vision and eye health.

Gotcha. So where will the funding for these resources come from?

That’s a critical component of the legislation.

The source: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

How: By way of grants and cooperative agreements for state and local communities.

Go on …

Per a legislative summary developed by Prevent Blindness, the proposed EDVI Act would amend the Public Health Service Act to “improve children’s vision and eye health through grants to states, territories, and tribal organizations and the provision of technical assistance.”

And what would these grants be used for, specifically?

Five key actions, including:

  1. Establishing such approaches as vision screenings to support the early detection of vision problems in pediatric patients; eye exam referrals; as well as follow-up care
  2. Identifying eye care barriers and strategies for improving overall vision health outcomes
  3. Promoting awareness and imperativeness for early interventions and screenings
  4. Creating an organized public health system to support vision health and eyecare diagnosis/treatment
  5. Implementing state-based improvement systems for data gathering; quality monitoring; and performance

Plus: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also expected to provide resources for establishing a national-level technical assistance center as well as support at the local and state level in implementing these pediatric programs.

Is the legislation based on any previous act?

It is, actually! The EDVI Act is modeled on a bipartisan act that established the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EDHI) program in 1998.

This legislation resulted in “drastically [increasing] the rates screening and referral to care for infants with hearing loss.”

Interesting … so what’s the status update on it?

With its introduction into the House just this week, the companion legislation to the EDVI Act is expected to be introduced in the U.S. Senate in the near future.

How about its overall significance?

It’s a pretty ground-breaking initiative, to say the least.

By creating this first-ever federal program, according to Rep. Bilirakis, the bill would guarantee all children receive the screening and care needed at the proper age.

And what kind of support is this garnering?

The bipartisan legislation has already been backed by a number of public health organizations (PHOs), including (but definitely not limited to):

  • American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO)
  • American Academy of Optometry (AAOpt)
  • American Optometric Association (AOA)
  • American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus

See here for the complete list of PHO support.

Any input from the organizations?

Yes! In a statement to Glance, the AOA noted that the current disparity in access to children’s vision care is a crisis that can only be solved by unifying the industry.

"With most learning, cognition and perception abilities mediated through vision, there is a clear and present need to activate solutions that will close the eye health and vision care gap before it adversely impacts more children’s literacy, visual efficiency, and perceptual skills," the organization stated.

The AOA added that, in providing this new funding, the EDVI Act would "empower states and communities to address this challenge with innovative solutions and resources."

Go on ...

The AAO also expressed its support, noting that healthy eyes and vision are a critical, sometimes overlooked, part of childhood development.

"If a parent doesn’t know which symptoms to look out for, or if a child is unable to identify or communicate some of these symptoms themselves, pediatric eye conditions and diseases can go undetected for years,” said Rupa Wong, MD, a pediatric ophthalmologist and clinical spokesperson for the AAO, in a statement to Glance."

"That’s why a federal program promoting both public awareness and nationwide eye screenings and treatment for children is so important," Dr. Wong added.

What if I’m interested in supporting as well?

The public is encouraged to express their support by reaching out to their respective members of Congress and “asking them to co-sponsor the EVDI Act.”

Head over to the Prevent Blindness Legislative Action Center to contact a representative.

*Disclaimer: The information provided in this article does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available herein are for general information purposes only.

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