Californians enrolled in Medi-Cal now offered ‘life-saving’ benefits covered by program

Katie Lee/Staff

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Eye doctors and optometry students held a news conference Monday to announce Medi-Cal’s reestablishment of two “life-saving” benefits for those under the health care program.

Starting this year, California adult residents enrolled in Medi-Cal will be provided eyeglasses and a comprehensive eye exam at no cost every two years as a covered benefit by the Medi-Cal program. According to John Flanagan, professor and dean of the UC Berkeley School of Optometry, after both benefits were cut in 2008 as a result of the Great Recession, there was a significant drop in eye exam appointments made by Californians.

“Thanks to California’s governor and legislators like Sen. Nancy Skinner, restoring this benefit means Californians with low incomes are not only more likely to have accurate eyeglass prescriptions to help them see but also are more likely to obtain eye exams that can detect diabetes, hypertension and other diseases that can be sight and life-threatening,” Flanagan said at the press conference.

According to Loukia Hadjiyianni, a junior at UC Berkeley’s School of Optometry, investment in the eye health care system is a cost-effective public strategy to provide early detection for populations at risk, treat diabetes at an early stage and ultimately aid California residents.

Diabetes is the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness in adults and is now being seen in the juvenile population, making it one of California’s greatest health concerns, according to Flanagan.

“Often, the patients who don’t come in are the ones who need to come in the most,” Hadjiyianni said.

In 2018, more than 301,000 cases of undiagnosed diabetes were uncovered by optometrists, according to the press release.

According to David Redman, chair of the Legislation-Regulation Committee for the California Optometric Association, the center where he works has received hundreds of patients who come in solely for an eye exam and are also diagnosed with diseases that have an effect on their health.

“We as optometrists prevent and diagnose a lot of diseases,” Redman said. “As diabetes becomes more of an epidemic — as we are about 50% of obesity in our state — I think it is very important that these patients receive care to be able to manage their health.”

The press release added that early detection for these types of diseases in populations that are most at risk, including Latinx and Black individuals in California, is crucial.

According to Hadjiyianni, Latinx and Black individuals are at twice the risk of suffering from diabetes than other ethnicities. She added that more than half of Californians are living with or are at risk of the disease.

“One in three Californians participate in Medi-Cal, making this opportunity for eyeglasses a potential game changer in our state’s fight against diabetes,” Flanagan said at the conference.

Contact Olivia González-Britt at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Oliviagbritt.