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July 14, 2014, 4:09 am

Free eye exams set for city’s children

Children from across Philadelphia will receive free eye screenings during the upcoming “Give Kids Sight Day.”

Screenings will occur April 14 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Thomas Jefferson Hospital Alumni Hall, 1020 Locust St.

The event arose out of a need to ensure that low-income children have access to eye care services.

“Fourteen thousand children every year in this city fail their mandatory school vision test and never see an eye doctor and that’s a tragedy,” said Dr. Alex Levin, chief of the Wills Eye pediatric ophthalmology and ocular genetics service.

“In an effort to address that tragedy a group called the Vision Coalition has come together to plan this opportunity where any child in Philadelphia who needs eye care can walk in the doors of Jefferson and get the care that they need at no cost.”

The Vision Coalition consists of Wills Eye Hospital, Jefferson Hospital, Philadelphia Eagles Youth Partnership, Public Citizens for Children and Youth and other organizations.

During the event, children are offered vision screening to detect whether there are any problems. Children who fail the vision screen will be checked to see if they need glasses. Glasses will be provided free of charge, if needed. Those who have greater eye care needs will receive a full pediatric ophthalmology exam at Wills Eye.

“So essentially what we’re offering is not only free vision screenings, but the top level of pediatric ophthalmologic care to anyone regardless of their ability to pay,” said Levin.

“Wills has a tremendous commitment to ensure that the children in this city can see, and Wills is dedicated in many ways to finding ways to reach out to these children.”

In addition to Sight Day, Wills assists children through its Wills on Wheels van that brings eye care to children in schoolyards, and its affiliation with the Eagles Eyemobile, which works to make comprehensive vision care accessible to under-and uninsured children in the region.

During Sight Day, Public Citizens for Children and Youth will focus on educating parents about public health insurance availability.

The free eye care event comes at a time when approximately 26,000 Philadelphia children are uninsured, yet as many as 75 percent of these kids could be eligible for pubic health insurance, according to Colleen McCauley, health policy director for the organization.

“Some parents are unaware that public health insurance exists and that their children are eligible,” said McCauley, noting that the reasons vary.

“Faced with a job loss eliminating employer-paid health coverage, many families are using the public safety net for the first time and do not know that public health insurance even exists.”

Also at issue are immigrant families who face additional barriers such as language, cultural differences and confusion over immigration status.

“A parent’s status does not affect the ability for their children to get public health insurance coverage,” McCauley pointed out.

During last year’s Sight Day, 600 of the 1,400 children who received the free eye screenings had eye care benefits that were covered by Medical Assistance and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, but their parents did not know it.

Public Citizens conducted a survey of 100 parents during the last Sight Day revealing that a majority of patients enrolled in MA and CHIP did not know what their benefits covered. Sixty-three of MA and 70 percent of CHIP parents understood the plans covered their child’s eye exams. Just 52 percent of MA parents and 60 percent of CHIP parents knew their child's eyeglasses were paid for by insurance.

Nearly half the parents surveyed, 44 percent, reported their child needed replacement glasses in the past. However, half of these parents got their child's replacement glasses at Sight Day — unnecessarily McCauley said. She says MA covers replacement glasses and CHIP pays for replacement lenses, but not frames.

Public Citizens also followed up with several opticians and optometrists and discovered that very few were able to accurately describe MA and CHIP eye care benefits.

“Some families are being misinformed by the very people who are being contracted to render services to them,” said McCauley.

“Therefore the emphasis at this year’s “Sight Day” is on educating parents. We have to do a better job of informing parents about what their children’s eye care benefits cover and make it easier to access these benefits as well.”

The upcoming Sight Day is open to children 18 and younger. Screenings are available on a walk-in basis. No appointments are necessary.

 

Contact staff writer Ayana Jones at (215) 893-5747 or ajones@phillytrib.com