Everyone should have access to comprehensive eye exams. Eye exams are necessary pieces to overall health because of their ability to prevent, detect, or delay more serious health and vision issues. The CDC found that 50% of cases of blindness or visual impairment could be prevented by early detection and timely treatment, but not everyone has equal access to care.
Access to health care services, including vision care, is influenced by numerous factors, such as income, distance from an eye care provider, wealth, and vision insurance coverage. These and other social determinants of health (SDOH) affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes.
Research has shown that SDOH are also linked to vision loss. A study that explored the connection between financial resources and vision health found that people in lower-income households report facing hurdles to accessing eye care more frequently than those living in high-income households, with cost as a primary barrier. This is true for 43% of respondents with incomes under $35,000, compared to 26% of people with incomes of $75,000 or more.
A recent study found that people who reported having visual difficulty were more likely to:
- Have a lower education level.
- Have health care coverage through Medicaid.
- Have food insecurity.
- Have problems paying medical bills.
- Have trouble finding a doctor.
- Skip doses of medicine because of cost.
- Identify as a gay male.
Research also shows that the following social factors play an important role in vision loss:
- Income: People with lower incomes are less likely to have had preventive care, including an eye exam, or to be able to afford eyeglasses and are more likely to have vision loss due to diabetic retinopathy.
- Education: People with less than a high school education are less likely to have had an eye care visit in the last year compared with people who have more than a high school education.
- Neighborhood: Neighborhood safety could affect diabetes-related stress, physical activity, weight management, and blood sugar levels—all of which are risk factors for chronic conditions that can lead to vision loss.
- Access to care: People living with a disability such as vision impairment or blindness report having more problems in accessing care, such as cost of care, availability of insurance coverage, transportation issues, and refusal of services by providers. People who have vision impairment are more likely to be uninsured compared with people who do not.
Addressing these barriers is key to eliminating health disparities and reaching vision health equity.