It’s no surprise that Americans with vision insurance have better vision than those without it. But a new study published in the online edition of Archives of Ophthalmology also concluded, “Vision insurance for preventive eye care should cease to be a separate insurance benefit and should be mandatory in all health plans.”

Researchers at the University of South Carolina School of Public Health compared the rates of eye care visits and vision impairment among working-age adults with and without vision insurance. The study included 27,152 respondents (between the ages of 40 and 64 years) to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey 2008. Included were 3,158 respondents (11.6%) with glaucoma, AMD and/or cataract. About 40% of the study population had no vision insurance.

According to the study results, individuals with vision insurance were more likely than those without insurance to have attended eye care visits. They also reported that they have no difficulty recognizing friends across the street or reading printed material.

“Lack of vision insurance impedes eye care utilization, which, in turn, may irrevocably affect vision,” the authors concluded. “Because our study empirically establishes the consequential link between lack of vision insurance and vision damage mediated by its impact on eye care visits, it provides the needed evidence for policy interventions to mandate vision coverage in all standard health plans.”

The researchers add, “Alternatively, federal and state governments may find it beneficial for their own budgets to initiate publicly sponsored eye-screening programs for the uninsured that are similar to those provided under the Best Chance Network for breast and cervical cancer screening.”

However, the National Association of Vision Care Plans (NAVCP) took issue with the study. NAVCP says its own study determined that Americans with stand-alone vision plans are twice as likely to get annual eye exams as those with vision coverage bundled into major medical plans.

Li YJ, Xirasagar S, Pumkam C, et al. Vision insurance, eye care visits, and vision impairment among working-age adults in the United States. Arch Ophthalmol. 2012 Dec 10:1-8. [Epub ahead of print]