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Visually impaired people less likely to access health care, CDC says

Nov. 22, 2022 Updated Tue., Nov. 22, 2022 at 7:18 p.m.

By Erin Blakemore Special to the Washington Post

Blindness and vision loss are among the top 10 disabilities among adults in the United States. But a new analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests people with impaired 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 U.S. adults each year. About 5% of the people surveyed in 2018 reported blindness or serious difficulty seeing even with glasses.

The analysis shows disparities between people with vision impairment and their counterparts without vision problems. They reported significant health differences: 50.2% said they had fair or poor general health compared with just 16.8% of those who didn’t report vision problems. They also were more likely to report other disabilities.

People with vision impairment were about 7% less likely to have health insurance and about 4% less likely to have a regular health-care provider. The number who said they’d had a regular health checkup in the past year was about the same as those without vision problems. They were also less likely to have had a dentist visit within the past year; 52.9% said they’d gone to the dentist in the past year, compared with 67.2% of people without vision impairment.

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

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

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

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