This eye-testing mandate for kids looks bad
The Kansas City Star
For an ugly vision of how Missouri’s Capitol operates, look no further than the current push to renew an expensive and unnecessary mandate requiring eye exams for children entering public school.
This mandate has been around since 2007. But families are allowed to opt out, and most do. Exams by optometrists cost about $100, and private insurance plans generally won’t cover them.
Now, a bill to renew the mandate is being fast-tracked through the House. The process reeks for multiple reasons. To cite a few:
House Speaker Steve Tilley assigned the bill to a friendly committee while bottling up a better bill proposing that the state drop the exam requirement and increase resources for vision screenings by school nurses. Tilley, a Republican from Perryville, is hardly neutral in the matter. He is a practicing optometrist and the recipient of $10,000 in donations from the Missouri Optometric Association last year.
Lawmakers appear ready to ignore the findings of a commission set up by state law to evaluate the effectiveness of the 2007 mandate.
The panel, chaired by the director of pediatric ophthalmology at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis, found that only about one in three children received an eye exam before entering kindergarten. It called the mandate ineffective and expensive, and reported that screenings by school nurses catch up to 97 percent of serious eye problems.
Pulling out all the stops, the Missouri Optometric Association has hired — count ’em — 11 lobbyists to help ramrod the outrageous mandate through the legislature.
It is unfair of lawmakers to deceive families into getting an eye exam when research tells them that an inexpensive school nurse screening would be just as effective.
Plus, continuing the mandate for private exams actually puts children at risk, because so many families opt out and the state offers no alternative.
The Senate must stop the travesty by Tilley and the House by refusing to pass a bill mandating eye exams, as it did last session. Even then, though, Tilley and his allies tried unsuccessfully to amend the provision to other bills.
Missouri legislators, especially Republicans, spend considerable time huffing about “Obamacare” and especially the individual insurance mandate. But some of them are working overtime to impose a vision mandate on Missouri families.
The hypocrisy is stunning, even if Tilley and his friends can’t see it.