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Elderly Will Get Free Eye Care Under Plan Starting Next Year

Associated Press

People over 65 will soon be able to receive without charge eye care that is not covered by insurance under a national program to show them that “growing older doesn’t mean going blind,” a spokesman for a professional group said.

The National Eye Care Project, sponsored by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, will begin early next year in Washington, D.C., and eventually go nationwide, said Dr. George Weinstein, chairman of ophthalmology at West Virginia University’s Medical School.

More than 8,000 doctors are expected to care for 125,000 patients during the first year. Eligible patients must be U.S. citizens or legal residents, 65 or older, and have no regular ophthalmologist.

Lack of Information

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“The academy is concerned about the fact that many older people simply don’t know about what is available,” Weinstein said. “A lot of people just assume that when you get older, you lose your vision. In many cases, that’s not true. There’s help that can be given.”

When the program was tested in 1982 in Washington, Michigan and West Virginia, 86% of the patients had some type of eye disease, he noted.

Weinstein said the budget for the project’s first year is $3.5 million. So far, the project has received $1 million in corporate gifts, $1 million from participating ophthalmologists and $500,000 from the academy. The project is still trying to raise the remaining $1 million.

The idea was conceived four years ago as a way for ophthalmologists to provide awareness, information and medical services to the elderly.

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Diseases Fairly Common

“Eye diseases are fairly common among the elderly,” Weinstein said, citing cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic eye problems as ailments most likely to affect older people.

Celebrities such as Gene Kelly, Mary Martin, John Forsythe and Cary Grant will appear in public service messages giving out a toll-free number for more information on the project.

“Eyeglasses are not free. Exams and services are,” said Weinstein, noting that patients with other medical problems, such as diabetes, will be referred to specialists on an informal basis.

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“It is a project where people will be helping people. It’s exactly the sort of thing that medicine should be doing,” Weinstein said.


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