How to Find a Low Vision Doctor
If you are visually impaired due to one of these diseases or because of an eye injury or other problem, ask your eye care professional about magnifiers and other low vision devices that can help you read and function independently.
If your eye doctor doesn't specialize in low vision, he or she may have only a limited knowledge of the many choices that exist in low vision aids. You may need to ask for a referral to a low vision specialist who can prescribe low vision devices and train you to use them in everyday situations.
One source that can help you find a low vision doctor is Lighthouse International. You can call the organization at (800) 829-0500 and select option 1 for information about scheduling low vision appointments. You also can e-mail Lighthouse International at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the Web, use Google search to find the Internet Low Vision Society that has a directory of specialists. Also, try using the keywords "low vision" and you'll find several regional sources. For example, specialists in the Maryland/Virginia/D.C. region are listed on the Low Vision Center's website.
A low vision specialist can advise you about which devices such as magnifiers might work best for you.
Who Pays for Low Vision Devices and Services?
Once you find a low vision specialist, who pays for their services and the low vision devices recommended? In most cases, you do.
Medicare currently provides only limited coverage for low vision services. Reimbursements are allowed for certain services provided by Medicare-certified occupational or physical therapists supervised by physicians.
In a five-year demonstration project scheduled to end in 2011, Medicare reimbursements for low vision rehabilitation are being evaluated in six regions. Eligible participants receive up to nine hours of benefits from certified low vision specialists supervised by eye care physicians. If deemed successful, the program will help establish uniform standards regarding the extent and types of low vision services that are covered, as well as which service providers are qualified to receive reimbursements.
Medicare at this time does not cover the cost of low vision aids, which are considered to be in the same category as eyeglasses.
When Congress created Medicare in 1965, it excluded from coverage certain items that were considered routine and low cost, including eyeglasses.
But many low vision devices today cost hundreds of dollars. Some, including closed-circuit television (CCTV) and computerized magnification systems, can cost thousands.
To assist visually impaired people in financial need, some nonprofit groups, including Lighthouse International, provide low vision aids to qualified individuals free of charge or at reduced pricing, depending on the person's visual needs and financial situation.
EyeCare America, a public service foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), provides another option. EyeCare America has several programs designed to meet the needs of those who don't have vision insurance. Qualifying individuals will receive a comprehensive eye examination and treatment for up to one year, at no cost.
To find out more about EyeCare America's programs, call 800-222 EYES (3937). If you are eligible, you will receive the name of a volunteer eye doctor in your community, along with instructions for making an appointment.
Some health insurance plans do provide limited coverage of low vision devices and services. Check with your insurance company or low vision doctor to see if yours is one of them.
[Page updated May 2014]