NJ Experiences Setback in Fight for Children’s Vision Health
More than 12 million children in the US experience vision problems, which affect their learning and negatively impact their social and emotional development. New Jersey may now be adding to that number.
In early 2019, state legislature passed a bill for the Department of Education to require children age 6 and younger to have a comprehensive eye examination before starting public school. It was unanimously passed and supported by many organizations, including New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA), the Learning Disabilities Association of New Jersey (LDANJ), New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), and New Jersey Society of Optometric Physicians (NJSOP).
However, Gov. Murphy vetoed the bill, citing the cost of eye examinations as a cause for concern. Sponsors and state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz and Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez responded, “We share in the financial concerns and that is why we searched diligently to find means to offset the cost and why we included not one, but two measures to address it. The Administration claims the bill fails to identify a reliable source of funding but annual appropriations are not unreliable.”
Most eye examinations are covered by insurance, Medicaid, and the SCHIP program. For parents without coverage, there are still options; philanthropic organizations (eg, OneSight, the Essilor Vision Foundation, VSP, Lions International, Vision to Learn) provide free or low-cost examinations. The proposed bill also addressed funding via the “Comprehensive Eye Examination Fund.”
To save money, Gov. Murphy reduced the requirement from examinations to vision screenings. However, screenings are unable to detect more significant vision problems, specifically those that affect school-age children: amblyopia, strabismus, and significant refractive error. Most of these conditions are untreatable by age 10.
Still, there remains hope. Illinois, Kentucky, and Nebraska have eye examination policies similar to what was proposed in New Jersey; it is not an impossible feat. Partners, collaborators, and vision advocates continue to push for children’s vision health.
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