Congress Passes Federal Employee Vision Benefits Bill

Congress Passes Federal Employee Vision Benefits Bill
Eight Million Eligible for Reduced Fee Eye Exams in 2006

Eight million Americans are one step closer to receiving an eye exam thanks to legislation passed by the US Congress last week. If signed into law, federal government workers, retirees, and their dependents would automatically qualify for enhanced vision benefits (eye exams and products) and, potentially, more government supplementation of costs in the near-term future.

“This new federal benefit could have a significant effect on vision care in the coming years,” noted Richard C. Elias, Chairman of the Vision Council of America. “I know of no other way we can impact so many people so quickly than with this type of legislation”.

The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), currently offers very little coverage for vision care. Under the new law, employees would receive discounts for refractive services, preventative care and eyewear. It also requires Congress to evaluate whether the cost of vision care should be further reduced for employees in order to increase their use.

The most obvious effect of this legislation is short-term. On January 1, 2006, eight million participants in the FEHBP will have a greater incentive to access the vision care they need to prevent unnecessary vision loss. If national worker statistics citing that 7 out of 10 workers want vision benefits is an indicator, it is likely that the number of federal employees receiving an eye exam in 2006 will rise.

But there are long-term effects as well. The FEHBP insurance program frequently serves as a benchmark for businesses and insurance providers across the country. Many of the benefits that FEHBP has implemented in the past (such as flex-time and cafeteria-style offerings) have been widely adopted; there is no reason to believe that would change with vision care benefits.

“These types of changes don’t happen in a vacuum,” Elias said. “We’ve spent the last four years telling both the public and policymakers about the importance of regular eye exams through our Check Yearly program and our advocacy campaigns. These efforts have a ripple effect,” he continued, “and help create an environment in which these types of changes can occur.”

Elias was also quick to praise United States Senator Susan Collins (ME), Representative Tom Davis (VA-11), Representative Jo Ann Davis (VA-01) and Representative Tim Murphy (PA-18) for their commitment and leadership in securing the passage of this legislation.

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