According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons, more than 2.9 million Americans age 40 and older have low vision and is defined as best-corrected visual acuity worse than 20/40; this number excludes those who are legally blind.
Nearly 4.2 million Americans age 40 and older are visually impaired. Defined as best-corrected visual acuity worse than 20/40 in the better-seeing eye; this number includes both those with low vision and those who are legally blind.
These numbers equate to a large number of eyeglasses needed and sold. An article in Forbes magazine by Richard Kestenbaum said, “In 2017, eight million pairs of prescription eyeglasses were sold online. That’s a lot of glasses, but it’s only 4.2% of the total prescription eyeglass market. The vast majority of prescription eyeglasses are still sold the old-fashioned way, with consumers getting an exam and picking their frames out in a physical store.”
Regardless of where one might purchase their eyewear, vision limitations can greatly affect the quality of life for older adults. Not being able to see well penetrates into every aspect of activities of daily living. Driving can be impaired without corrective lenses, medication labels may be misread or mistaken for something else, and pleasures such as book reading are diminished.
The average cost of glasses without insurance is $242, according to statistics from VSP, a national vision insurance company. That’s for frames only. For basic, single lenses, add on an additional $114. (Many older adults need bifocal lenses, which will cost even more.) The total cost will be on average about $355 for a complete pair of glasses without vision insurance. That amount is also not including the eye exam to determine the eyeglasses prescription. These costs can be a huge barrier to many older adults on fixed incomes.
How do individuals in our communities get assistance selecting and purchasing eyeglasses?
Recently, a client under 60 years of age, who was also homeless, contacted the Region 10 Area Agency on Aging office asking for help to update his prescription. The referral was sent to a Volunteers of America AdvantAge Health Resource Center (www.voa4you.org) care navigator who began to consult with the client (named Doug for the purposes of this article). Doug first made an appointment with an eye care professional to obtain his prescription, which specified single or bifocal lens and pupillary distance. With this information, the care navigator applied for an eyeglasses voucher on Doug’s behalf with an online service called New Eyes for the Needy. New Eyes, a non-profit, purchases new prescription eyeglasses for low-income individuals in the U.S. through a voucher program.
Doug and care navigator shopped on the New Eyes website for frames. There are approximately 10 or so styles to choose from for men or women. The voucher was approved, which took about two business days. Then, the care navigator entered Doug’s frame selection and other prescription information. Completed glasses were shipped through the mail direct to the client, which took about 10-14 days, with no out of pocket costs.
To be eligible for the New Eyes program (https://new-eyes.org/who-is-eligible), applicants must:
• Be in financial need
• Have had a recent eye exam (within the first 24 months) with a pupillary distance measurement. New Eyes does not pay for eye exams, but will help applicants locate a source of free or low-cost eye exams.
• Have no other resources available to them to pay for glasses, including federal or state programs or assistance from local charitable organizations.
A New Eyes voucher provides a basic pair of single or lined bifocal eyeglasses. Only social service agencies/health advocates can apply on an individual’s behalf. If approved, the agency rep will receive a voucher number via email on the individual’s behalf. Vouchers are good for three months from the date of issue. If the voucher is not used before the expiration date, the applicant may not apply for another voucher for 12 months.
COVID-19 UPDATE: New Eyes is currently able to accept applications from individuals financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This application is only for individuals who do not have a social worker, caseworker or other health advocate. All others, as before, must apply through their existing social service agency.
Erin Berge is the Regional Marketing Director for Volunteers of America, who provide a network of health care programs in Montrose and Delta Counties (voahealthservices.org, voa4you.org or 1-844-862-4968).