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Eye Exams Can Help Diagnose Diabetes

woman receiving an eye exam

Diabetes is one of the most common health conditions in the United States, affecting more than 34 million Americans, including 7.3 million who have undiagnosed diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A routine eye exam can play an important role in helping to diagnose the condition for your Medicare Advantage members.

Diabetes Affects More Than One-Quarter of Older Americans

More than one-quarter of those age 65 and older have diabetes, according to the CDC’s 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report. That includes 11.5 million older adults whose diabetes is diagnosed and almost 3 million more whose diabetes isn’t yet diagnosed. On top of that, another 24 million older adults have prediabetes, the CDC reports.

For the one in 10 Americans diagnosed with diabetes, almost 90% were overweight; nearly 40% were physically inactive, and 15% were smokers, according to the CDC.

Addressing diabetes as soon as possible can prevent or delay many other related health problems, the CDC reports.

Eye Exams Can Help Detect the Disease

Each year, about 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes. Eye exams are considered one of the least invasive, most cost-effective ways of looking inside a person’s body to get a picture of their overall health, and 20% of people said they learned they had diabetes thanks to an eye exam.

The American Optometric Association recommends that Americans age 60 and older receive an annual eye exam and that people get their eyes checked immediately if they experience a change in their vision.

Diabetes Drives up Healthcare Costs

The prevalence of diabetes and prediabetes can be a concern for health plan managers, as the average medical expenditures for people diagnosed with diabetes are about 2.3 times higher than for those who don’t have diabetes. The disease accounts for $245.5 billion in annual healthcare utilization.

Diabetes Can Lead to Other Conditions

For someone already diagnosed with diabetes, having a comprehensive eye exam with their eyes dilated is important as it can help diagnose diabetic retinopathy, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Diabetic retinopathy affects the blood vessels in a person’s retina and can cause vision loss and blindness. It can initially be asymptomatic, but if it’s detected early, measures can be taken to help protect the person’s vision. In addition, people who have diabetes are two to five times more likely to develop cataracts and are more likely to develop them at a younger age.

Diabetes also doubles the risk of a person developing a certain type of glaucoma, called open-angle glaucoma.

Vision Insurance Valued by Health Plan Executives

Offering vision insurance can bring value to your Medicare Advantage members and to your organization.

Almost 60% of consumers surveyed in Versant Health’s Second Annual Vision Wellness Study say they value the fact that eye care professionals can help detect serious health conditions, such as diabetes. And more than 80% of older respondents said they would visit an eye care professional more regularly if it helps to identify chronic conditions.

Of the 17 health plan executives surveyed, all of them said members’ access to routine eye exams had a high to moderate impact in detecting health issues like diabetes. Almost 95% of executives said it lowered total eye care costs for the health plan and reduced members’ out-of-pocket expenses.

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