Visually impaired people less likely to access healthcare, CDC says

Blindness and vision loss are among the top 10 disabilities among adults in the United States. But a new analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests people with low vision aren’t getting the health care they need.

The study, published in the CDC journal Preventing Chronic Disease, examines 2018 data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which collects information from 400,000 American adults each year. Around 5% of people surveyed in 2018 said they were blind or had serious difficulty seeing, even with glasses.

The analysis shows disparities between people with visual impairments and their counterparts without vision problems. They reported significant differences in health: 50.2% reported having fair or poor general health, compared to just 16.8% of those who did not report vision problems. They were also more likely to report other disabilities.

People with visual impairment were about 7% less likely to have health insurance and about 4% less likely to have a regular health care provider. The number of those who said they had had a regular checkup in the past year was about the same as those who had no vision problems. They were also less likely to have had a visit to the dentist in the past year; 52.9% said they had visited the dentist in the past year, compared to 67.2% of people without visual impairment.

The most striking difference, however, was related to cost. People with vision problems were more than twice as likely as their counterparts to say they had an unmet health care need due to cost – 29.2% vs. 12.6%.

More research is needed to understand the barriers to health care for people with visual impairment, the researchers write. Previous studies have shown similar gaps in health insurance coverage and cost issues.

The CDC estimates that approximately 3.22 million people in the United States have visual impairment and 1.02 million are blind. The number of visually impaired people is expected to double by 2050.

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