The Illinois General Assembly passed legislation that will require a comprehensive eye exam by a qualified eye doctor for all children entering kindergarten or enrolling for the first time in public, private or parochial elementary schools in Illinois.

The General Assembly passed this bill, S.B. 641, after overriding Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevichs amendatory veto. The veto would have allowed other health care professionalswho may not be eye doctorsto perform visual screenings instead of comprehensive eye exams.

While many states require vision screening for children, few states require a comprehensive eye exam. Illinois joins Kentucky and Missouri as the only states in the nation that require schoolchildren to receive eye exams performed by an eye doctor.

Under this new law, eye examinations will include (at a minimum) the childs history, visual acuity, subjective refraction to best visual acuity near and far, an internal and external examination, a glaucoma evaluation as well as any other tests or observation that in the professional judgment of the doctor are deemed necessary.

One third of children [in Illinois] are being missed in the school vision screening process, says Michael G. Horstman, executive director of the Illinois Optometric Association. All children should have a baseline exam before they start school.

Private insurance, Medicaid and the state childrens health insurance program will cover most of these eye exams, Mr. Horstman says. Charitable organizations and corporations will also provide coverage, in addition to eye doctors who offer free exams. A provision in the law allows school superintendents to grant a waiver where hardship or service availability is an issue.

The bill, which will take effect on January 1, 2008, was supported by the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Illinois Optometric Association, school superintendents and representatives from the medical and eye professional fields.

On the Federal level, legislation continues to move forward for childrens vision needs.

In mid-October, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Vision Care for Kids Act of 2007 (H.R.507), which would establish a federal grant program focusing on treatment to help bolster childrens vision initiatives in the states and also encourage childrens vision partnerships with non-profit entities. The legislation was sent to committee to be correlated with the Senate version of the bill.

Vol. No: 144:11Issue: 11/15/2007