This week, a bill requiring eye exams for school-age children with the goal of identifying serious eye conditions that can affect learning sailed through the state Senate Health Committee with a unanimous 8-0 vote.
SB 402, by state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), would require students entering elementary school in California to have a thorough eye exam by a physician, optometrist or ophthalmologist. Repeat vision testing would be required every second year.
Today, only a school nurse needs to check a student’s vision upon entrance into elementary school and again in second, fifth and eighth grade. The nurse typically checks for near and far sightedness and color blindness.
Supporters of SB 402 contend that this school-based exam can miss serious eye problems that hamper classroom learning and attention. The bill would require students to be tested for 11 eye conditions, including stigmatism, ability to focus and how well eyes track and work together, Mitchell said.
"Detecting vision problems through more comprehensive exams will ensure that every child has the same opportunity and potential to learn," Mitchell said.
Parents would not face penalties for not providing these tests to their children. However, the Affordable Care Act includes a comprehensive child vision exam as part of health plans’ essential benefits package.
Glenn Kawaguchi, board member of the California State Board of Optometry, which sponsored the bill, said that current education codes related to vision are lacking. Some 33% of children who pass a basic vision screening have significant eye problems, according to CDC.
"I see several children each week in my practice who are slipping through the cracks and it just breaks my heart," Kawaguchi said. "One child not doing well in school because of vision impairment is one too many."
Opponents of the bill include Kaiser Permanente and the California Academy of Family Physicians.
"Our eye health providers have some problems with mandating such a significant eye exam for children," said Teresa Stark, director of government affairs for Kaiser Permanente, adding that there is disagreement in the scientific community about which vision tests should be performed on children.
The bill passed the state Senate Education Committee in April with a 7-0 vote.