‘Year of Children’s Vision’ Gets a Head Start on Healthy Sight for 2014

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As the optical industry rolls into the new year, an important topic has captured the attention of associations and public health groups: promoting eyecare for children. Addressing the topic, Prevent Blindness America (PBA) and partner organizations have made a New Year’s resolution to make 2014 the “Year of Children’s Vision,” or YOCV, an initiative that has already begun to receive national attention by targeting both families and educational institutions to bring eyecare and vision screenings to the forefront of children’s health care.


 
The initiative was spearheaded by PBA through its National Center for Children’s Vision and Eye Health and in collaboration with the National Head Start Association (NHSA), the American Academy of Optometry’s Binocular Vision, Perception and Pediatric Optometry Section, the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, the Good-Lite Company and the School Health Corporation. YOCV officially kicked off on Oct. 23, 2013 with plans to extend through April 2014 and it emphasizes the general goal to “give kids a head start on healthy sight.”

More specifically, the initiative was created to encourage early childhood educators to standardize their approach to vision health for children and to provide national guidance for targets like Head Start program staff and grade school teachers to administer regular vision screenings, improve follow-up for children who do not pass them and provide educational information to families that is easy to understand and act on. And, of course, the initiative intends to consult with the nation’s leading pediatric eyecare providers to ensure best practices for children’s eye health throughout the year.

According to the CDC, vision impairments are common conditions among young children, affecting 5 percent to 10 percent of those at the preschool age. In fact, in its Visual Impairment and Use of Eyecare Services and Protective Eyewear Among Children study, the organization notes that only one in six children in the U.S. receive eyecare before their sixth birthday. Responding to this deficiency, as well as to evidence that vision screenings are critical not only to children’s eye health, but to their social development and productivity, leading vision and public health groups are using the YOCV to push standardized eyecare for the nation’s youth.


  PBA and partner organizations created the YOCV
to emphasize kids’ eye health.
To accomplish these goals, YOVC collaborators will provide educational presentations, topical resources and technical assistance online to individuals and institutions with monthly activities that link back to the YOCV website ( preventblindness.org/year-of-childrens-vision) where relevant information will be housed throughout the program as well as for future reference.

Activities include a national survey of Head Start health managers and staff to assess their vision screening practices, a focus group discussion with staff and parents whose children attend Head Start, monthly vision topic discussions and downloadable resources supporting the monthly discussion themes that program staff can integrate into their vision screening efforts.

A series of events have also been planned throughout the duration of the initiative, such as a half-day panel presentation at the NHSA’s 30th Annual Head Start Parent Conference and Family Engagement Institute, held Dec. 9 through 13, 2013 in Atlanta, Ga., and a presentation and exhibit on the YOCV at the NHSA’s 41st Annual Head Start Conference from April 28 through May 2, 2014 in Long Beach, Calif.

Though particular focus is being brought to improving children’s vision care in 2014, PBA has put forth programs and reports in the past which have lent themselves to the YOCV and its goals. Earlier this year, PBA and Transitions Optical partnered to provide educational materials about children’s eye health in a focus paper highlighting at-risk groups in the population, Focus on Children’s Eye Health in Culturally Diverse Populations. The paper was made possible through an educational grant from the Transitions Healthy Sight for Life Fund and was released following the PBA Focus on Eye Health Summit held in June in Washington, D.C.

 

PBA also designated the month of August as “Children’s Eye Health Month,” calling upon caregivers and educators to make eye health a priority for the upcoming school year. The association offered educators the Star Pupils Eye Health and Safety Curriculum, a set of educational materials available for free download for grades K-2, 3-5 and 6-8 which adhered to National Health, National Science and National Physical Education standards. The curriculum included presentation guides, eye exam diagrams, in-class worksheets and an activity book for children, and offered free tips for parents and families on how to make eye health a priority early on.

In September, PBA and the Children’s Vision Massachusetts coalition were awarded a five-year grant totaling $235,000 from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Healthy Tomorrows Partnership for Children Program, a collaborative effort between the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Maternal Child Health Bureau that distributes grants at the local level to promote community planning and problem solving such as children’s vision programming. More recently, CVS Caremark provided PBA with a $3,500 grant which will specifically support the YOCV initiative.

“Keeping children’s eyes healthy is what our organization was founded on more than 100 years ago,” said Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of PBA. A series of topics relating to the YOCV initiative and how to take part in its monthly activities is available on the PBA National Center website ( nationalcenter.preventblindness.org/year-childrens-vision). ■

cwolinski@jobson.com



Six Steps to Access New Pediatric Patients

With the Affordable Care Act requiring that pediatric vision care be an essential health benefit starting in January 2014, an estimated 7 million to 8 million previously uninsured children from birth through age 18 are expected to have coverage for comprehensive eye exams and materials.

According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), this increased demand for children’s eyecare services will require many health plans to add optometrists as participating providers. Accommodating coverage expansion for ODs will occur in two major ways, through new insurance carriers entering the market and offering new health plans, or through existing carriers already in the market offering new health plans.

Through its Third Party Center, the AOA has suggested six steps to take advantage of coverage expansion:

Determine which of your plan contracts include an “all products” clause, which allows the carrier to add new plans/products, including new terms and conditions, and enables them to assign a contracted OD to a new provider network and change reimbursement terms.

Be aware of health plans and vision plans that have not offered vision care services in the past and are now contracting with vision plans to cover and administer the exam and materials benefits.
Determine whether you are listed as a participating provider in all new plans.
Pay attention to prevalent trends such as the narrowing of provider networks and/or changes in plan terms or operations, including changes in your reimbursement.
Seek expert help when needed from business and legal advisors to fully assess your practice’s unique situation during a contract’s review and negotiation.
Employ the “Power of the Pen” AOA tutorial, available at www.aoa.org, to perform a detailed review of all contracts.

“In today’s health care market, the evaluation of insurance contracts and, when appropriate, negotiation with insurance plans on the terms of provider agreements, has become a responsibility that practicing optometrists must undertake,” said Charles B. Brownlow, OD, an AOAExcel consultant on third party issues. ■