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Eye Health & Population Health: The Role of Social Determinants in Vision Care

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted inequities and disparities in our healthcare system, with social determinants of health (SDOH), or the conditions in the environment in which people live, having a considerable correlation with COVID-19 outcomes. SDOH often refers to the availability of resources, such as housing, education, diet and employment, among other factors, which can affect health outcomes and access to care when not properly addressed.

We explored the connection between financial resources and vision health in our second annual Vision Wellness Study, and 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.

Lower-income households are also less likely to regularly access preventive care. According to the study, 81% of respondents say they received an eye exam in the past two years, while 68% of people in households with incomes under $35,000 say the same. These findings are similar to a 2016 report from Project HOPE, an international health care organization, which found children in less affluent households are less likely to receive preventative care than those from higher-income families.

Of those who have received an eye exam in the past two years, those from lower-income households are more likely to say insurance coverage would have a high impact on the likelihood that their household would see an eye doctor more often. 61% of people with incomes under $35,000, compared to 56% of total respondents say having glasses, frames and eye wear covered by insurance would impact their likelihood of seeing an eye doctor more often. Additionally, 58% of people with incomes under $35,000, versus 51% of all respondents, say having insurance cover medical emergencies would also impact how often they see an eye doctor. On the other side of the same coin, 88% of health plan executives cite lack of and cost of transportation as the key obstacle for members’ access to eye care services, highlighting how care costs—whether it is insurance that fully covers care expense or the money needed to travel to seek eye care—impact equitable access to eye care.

These results indicate that care costs and insurance can impact vision care access, which plays a critical role in overall health. It’s clear that addressing SDOH factors is necessary to properly manage patients’ health, prevent serious health conditions, and improve health outcomes in our communities. It’s also important to remember that eye care accessed through vision benefits is one of the most cost-effective ways of looking at overall health. In fact, for many coverage for an annual eye exam and glasses costs less than a daily cup of coffee, while also allowing for early detection of more than 30 chronic health conditions.

To learn more about Versant Health’s 2020 Vision Wellness Study and additional findings, check out the executive summary and infographics here.


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