Marylanders are extremely fortunate to have some of the nation's finest health care resources readily available within our borders. As Vincent DeMarco points out in his recent commentary ("Health exchanges benefit Md. families," Feb. 16), we also lead the country in a pro-active approach to embracing the federal Affordable Care Act as health exchanges will be created in Maryland by January of 2014.
Nationally, within the eye care community, a debate has arisen over the inclusion of "stand-alone" vision plans as a component of the proposed health exchanges. As an eye care provider, executive of a regional eye care delivery system and concerned citizen who has studied the delivery of eye care throughout the U.S. for the past two decades, I would like to offer some advice as our legislators continue to ferret out the appropriate details for the health exchanges: Be certain to include easy and affordable access to comprehensive eye and vision benefits.
While technology and ingenuity have allowed those with visual loss to be productive members of society, most would readily agree that healthy eyes and crisp clear vision add to the quality of life, the learning experience and the quality of the workforce. Regardless of who "wins" the debate on stand-alone vision plans versus vision benefits incorporated within a health plan, we must make certain that both quality medical eye care and vision care are services offered in the exchanges.
In 1965 when Medicare was originally developed, mostly for those age 65 older, it was decided that medical eye care would be included (for example, treatment for glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration or, simply, a conjunctivitis) in the covered benefits, but vision care (the optical correction of the eyes' focus) was excluded, creating a distinct wall separating medical eye care from vision care services. While my colleagues in the eye care industry (optometrists and ophthalmologists) are well aware of the difference between medical and vision care services, the average citizen of Maryland is confused by the distinction and shouldn't have to even worry about it. They should simply know they need to visit the eye doctor and be assured that the care they require is included in their benefits package.
Let's make the delivery of care in Maryland accessible, affordable and less confusing. Let's compensate our care providers fairly and let's continue to showcase Maryland as the nation's leader in the delivery of health care.
Richard C. Edlow, Baltimore
The writer is chief executive officer of Katzen Eye Group.