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Doctors of Optometry Applaud New Law Requiring Eye Exams for Illinois Children
Date:10/10/2007

General Assembly passes legislation to ensure only qualified eye doctors

can perform eye exams for children starting school

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Oct. 10 /PRNewswire/ -- With the support of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Optometric Association, the General Assembly passed SB 641 into law today, requiring comprehensive eye examinations for children entering kindergarten or enrolling for the first time in public, private, or parochial elementary schools in Illinois. Acting on behalf of students, parents and teachers, the General Assembly overrode Gov. Rod Blagojevich's amendatory veto, making sure that important improvements in children's eye health care are enacted.

The amendatory veto would have allowed various health professionals who are not specifically trained in the eye and who may not have the appropriate equipment to perform eye exams. The General Assembly rejected that approach, insisting that only qualified eye doctors -- such as optometrists and ophthalmologists -- can conduct exams.

"Clear and comfortable vision is essential for learning, and this new law will help Illinois children succeed and reach their full potential," Ed Geppert, Jr., president of the IFT, said. "This measure will help children read and see chalkboards more clearly. All Illinois children deserve the tools they need to fulfill their potential, and our students will benefit from this law."

The new law takes effect January 1, 2008, requiring eye exams within one year prior to kindergarteners starting school in the fall, and for all students who are entering a school in Illinois for the first time. Proof of the required eye examination must be submitted by Oct. 15 of each school year. Additional vision examinations at various grade levels may be required when deemed necessary by school authorities.

"Comprehensive eye exams are the best way to diagnose eye and vision problems in children early, before they interfere with a child's ability to learn," said Charlotte Neilsen, O.D., president of the Illinois Optometric Association and a Grayslake optometrist. "The IOA is proud to support true leaders like Sen. Deanna Demuzio (D-Carlinville) and Rep. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) and the Illinois Federation of Teachers in the effort to make children's vision and classroom learning a top priority. Thanks to the General Assembly's leadership, Illinois now leads the nation with the best eye health care requirements for children."

Illinois joins Kentucky and Missouri as the third state in the nation requiring eye exams for children entering public schools. Since the Kentucky law requiring eye exams was enacted seven years ago, 13 percent of Kentucky children have been identified as needing corrective lenses, 3.4 percent diagnosed with amblyopia, and 2.3 percent diagnosed with strabismus.

"Vision disorders are considered the fourth most common disability in the United States, though many vision problems in children are preventable or treatable if caught early on," said Peter H. Kehoe, O.D., F.A.A.O., president-elect of the AOA and a Galesburg optometrist. "With nearly 25 percent of school-age children suffering from vision problems, this law is necessary to help detect problems and treat and prevent diseases that can cause vision loss."

Ten million children suffer from vision disorders, according to the National Parent Teacher Association. Nationally, about 86 percent of children entering first grade do not receive an eye exam. Comprehensive eye exams for children entering school are critical for the early intervention needed to treat diseases and disorders such as amblyopia ("lazy eye"), strabismus, retinoblastoma and other serious and potentially blinding problems that can lead to poor school performance that can ultimately affect quality of life.

A professional, comprehensive eye examination by an optometrist or ophthalmologist is essential for the diagnosis and timely treatment of eye and vision problems prior to entry into school. Many vision screenings test only for visual acuity (clarity of sight).

Comprehensive eye examinations are a cost-effective investment in Illinois's children. Approximately 70 percent of children are insured for comprehensive eye exams through private insurance, Medicaid, S-CHIP or other state or federal programs. Optometrists, ophthalmologists and local charitable organizations have provided ongoing assistance for families in need.

Doctors encourage parents to take their children at any time within the next year for a comprehensive eye exam to ensure they meet the necessary requirements in time for the beginning of the next school year.

For more information and local resources, please visit http://www.ioaweb.org.

To find a nearby optometrist, or to schedule an eye examination for your child, please visit http://www.aoadrlocator.com.

About the American Optometric Association (AOA):

The American Optometric Association represents more than 34,000 doctors of optometry, optometry students and paraoptometric assistants and technicians. Optometrists provide more than two-thirds of all primary eye care in the United States and serve patients in nearly 6,500 communities across the country. In 3,500 of those communities they are the only eye doctors.

American Optometric Association doctors of optometry are highly qualified, trained doctors on the frontline of eye and vision care who examine, diagnose, treat and manage diseases and disorders of the eye. In addition to providing eye and vision care, optometrists play a major role in a patient's overall health and well-being by detecting systemic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Prior to optometry school, optometrists undergo three to four years of undergraduate study that typically culminates in a bachelor's degree with extensive, required coursework in areas such as advanced health, science and mathematics. Optometry school consists of four years of post-graduate, doctoral study concentrating on both the eye and systemic health. In addition to their formal training, doctors of optometry must undergo annual continuing education to stay current on the latest standards of care. For more information, visit http://www.aoa.org.

Media Contact: Liz Torrez

312-255-3036 (o)

773-580-5640 (c)

liz.torrez@hillandknowlton.com


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SOURCE American Optometric Association
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