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Aging Eye Diseases and Your Vision Coverage

Common eye disorders and aging eye diseases affect about 11 million Americans each year. Americans 40 years and older are most at risk of being diagnosed with an aging eye diseases, as over three million people in this age group are either legally blind have low vision. The leading causes of blindness in the United States include aging eye diseases, with the most common of these diseases being age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.

The following information acts as a guide to readers on these common aging eye diseases, as well as the different vision plans available in the States.

Aging Eye Diseases

Here are descriptions of some of the most common eye diseases associated with aging:

  • Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Macular degeneration, also frequently referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is an eye disorder that leads to the damaging of one’s peripheral and central vision. AMD affects the macula, which is the central part of the retina that allows the eye to see the finer details of objects. There are two forms of AMD, wet and dry. Wet AMD is when blood vessels behind the retina begin to grow under the macula, ultimately leading to blood and fluid leakage. The bleeding and leaking of these blood vessels causes damage and leads to rapid central vision loss. Dry AMD occurs when the macula thins over time, gradually blurring central vision. This form is the more common of the two, accounting for 70 to 90 percent of all cases. Today, it is estimated that 1.8 million Americans 40 years and older are affected by AMD, with the number of cases expected to reach 2.95 million in 2020.
  • Cataract: Cataract, the leading cause of blindness in the United States, is a clouding of the eye’s lens. Although treatment for the removal of cataracts is widely available, financial barriers such as insurance coverage and treatment costs, as well as lack of awareness, prevent many people from receiving proper treatment. Currently, an estimated 20.5 million Americans 40 years and older have cataract in one or both eyes. This accounts for over 17 percent of the total population. By 2020, over 30 million people will have cataracts.
  • Diabetic Retinopathy: Diabetic retinopathy, arising from a common complication of diabetes, is the leading cause of blindness in American adults and usually affects both eyes simultaneously. It is caused when the light-sensitive tissues at the back of the eye that are necessary for good vision become damaged as blood vessels of the retina gradually becomes blocked. DR progresses through four stages: mild nonproliferative retinopathy (microaneurysms), moderate nonproliferative retinopathy (there is blockage in some retinal vessels), severe nonproliferative retinopathy (more vessels become blocked, depriving the retina from adequate blood supply) and proliferative retinopathy. DR, which is the leading cause of blindness among working-aged adults in the United States ages 20 to 74, affects about 5 million Americans every year.
  • Glaucoma: Glaucoma damages the eye’s optic nerve, which results in vision loss. If untreated, the condition leads to blindness. Glaucoma occurs when the normal fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly rises, although recent findings have shown that glaucoma can actually occur with normal eye pressure. There are two main diagnoses of glaucoma, “open angle” and “closed angle” glaucoma. Open angle is a chronic condition that progresses slowly over a long period of time and is not usually diagnosed until the disease is very advanced. Angle closure, on the other hand, appears suddenly and is very painful. Visual loss usually progresses quickly, but thankfully the pain leads most patients to seek medical attention before permanent damage occurs.

Vision Coverage Plans

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, less than 30 percent of all employees receive vision care coverage. Although vision care plans are frequently expensive and confusing, there are affordable and reliable options you can turn to in order to receive adequate coverage.

Those whose vision care is not covered by employers can purchase affordable options through several other groups, including local businesses and college alumni associations, fraternal organizations and religious groups. Those over the age of 65 will most likely be eligible to receive vision care through a Medicare Advantage Plan.

A PPO, which is a network of healthcare provides who provide services to members at a fixed rate below retail prices, is another affordable option for people who are self-employed or unemployed, or whose employers do not cover vision care.

When it comes to vision benefits packages, a quality plan tends to include free eye care services and discounts on eyewear. Vision plans can also include “deductibles,” where the member pays the eye care provider out-of-pocket before the insurance benefits are used. An individual plan can cost anywhere from $150 to $180 annually, depending on where you live and who is providing the service.

Along with free eye examinations and discounts, vision care should also provide a monetary allowance for contacts lenses and contact lens examinations. Two reliable and affordable eye insurance companies that offer uninsured individuals competitive pricing include Vision Service Plan and Humana One. Humana One also offers recently unemployed individuals affordable plans for temporary vision care. Both Vision Service Plan and Humana One offer comprehensive and affordable plans to treat various aging eye diseases.

Some individuals also choose to enroll in discount plans, rather than vision care insurance programs. These plans give discounts that take 30 to 40 percent off all retail prices for examinations and corrective lenses. For example, AARP is a membership program that offers competitive discounts for vision care related services.

Additional Resources

For individuals who want to learn more about affordable vision care and aging eye diseases, the following list of informative links discusses topics such as vision care providers and clinical studies.

  • Eye Search: Eye Search provides a comprehensive listing of resources related to vision care and the eye.
  • National Eye Institute (NEI): The National Eye Institute supports research that prolongs vision and provides information on aging eye disease. The site also includes clinical studies, grants and funding opportunities for researchers, as well as an image and video catalog.
  • VisionSite: VisionSite is a directory of vision care professionals and includes information on vision health and conditions.
  • Vision Works, Inc.: Vision Works, Inc. provides information on alternative eye care and includes detailed nutritional protocols and prevention to help preserve vision.