Michigan and Georgia state legislators are considering legislation that would expand access to telehealth services for contact lens and eyeglasses prescription renewals. While a seemingly small change, it would make it easier for consumers to get new glasses and contacts and help push the states toward more innovative health care more broadly. This week I had the opportunity to testify to both state legislatures why I agree with these proposed changes.

Under current law, both Michigan and Georgia treat ocular health differently than other types of health care. Patients can see physicians remotely to renew drug prescriptions but not eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions. The states legislatively limited access to telehealth over safety concerns rather than letting the governing boards of medicine decide where a person could receive ocular health care.

In recent years, renewing contact lens and eye glass prescriptions has become commonplace is many states. After an initial prescription is provided with an in-person exam, certain low-risk contact lens wearers can use home computers and mobile phones to check their vision and take a picture of their eye to renew prescriptions for up to five years. The information is sent to a local ophthalmologist, who reviews the results and issues a prescription renewal if appropriate.

But this type of renewal is banned in Michigan and Georgia. The good news is, the state legislatures are considering HB 4356 and HB 629, innovative bills which would roll back these limits and allow the residents of Michigan and Georgia, respectively, to use telehealth to renew lens prescriptions.

While telehealth will never be a panacea of all of health care, it does have the potential to increase access and reduce costs. But using state law to unnecessarily blocking access to certain telehealth services is just one (of many) reasons why health care costs too much in the United States. Here’s a technology that allows people to avoid unnecessary in-person visits, and yet it’s banned from being used for basic lens prescription renewals. And as we’ve seen from the Covid-19 pandemic, telehealth can BOTH improve access and reduce costs when used appropriately.

During Covid-19, it’s been laid bare how some parts of the health care system maintain barriers to access solely for revenue purposes. To reduce costs and improve access, we need to make it easier to access needed care – whether or not we are in a pandemic.

Michigan and Georgia should vote to approve these bills to make it easier for their constituents to get their eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions.


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