Glaucoma is a devastating eye disease that currently affects more than 3 million Americans. By the year 2050, data shows the number of cases is projected to surge to more than 6 million cases. This is a heartbreaking prediction for so many families who have or will have a loved one suffering from this debilitating condition that can lead to permanent vision loss and blindness.
In addition to the medical impact to patients’ vision and quality of life, there are also substantial economic costs associated with this disease. It is estimated that glaucoma costs the United States nearly $3 billion annually in “direct costs and productivity losses.”
These stats should be a wake-up call to every government leader and medical professional that we must do more to get ahead of this looming medical crisis.
This Glaucoma Awareness Month should be an opportunity for the country to come together to increase awareness for this debilitating disease, encourage Americans to schedule their regular eye screenings and exams, and most importantly, it is a time for medical professionals and ophthalmology experts to commit on advancing more research opportunities that can lead to more treatment options for patients.
As someone who has worked in the field of ophthalmology for nearly three decades, I am personally familiar with the painful effects of this disease and what it means for patients and their families. I also know that while there is no known cure for glaucoma, we do have hope that with more research and access to innovative treatments medical professionals are able to provide patients with a quality-of-care plan that can help them effectively manage the disease and may even help prevent the loss of vision.
Throughout my time in Congress, I have made it a priority to advocate for policies and solutions that increase access to innovative and individualized care options for patients. Last year, I worked to introduce the bipartisan Strengthening Medicare for Patients and Providers Act, which will increase access to health care options for Medicare beneficiaries across the country. Patients deserve to have individualized care, not be forced to use certain practitioners based on arbitrary standards.
Just last month, I personally worked with Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to help expand access to viable and effective glaucoma treatment options for patients. As a result of restrictions implemented by five of the seven Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), which determine coverage eligibility for tens of millions of Medicare beneficiaries across 37 states, had unilaterally decided to limit access to several FDA-cleared and clinically validated glaucoma surgeries. The types of Microinvasive Glaucoma Surgeries (MIGS) that would have been removed for these Medicare beneficiaries have a proven track record of efficacy, minimal disruption, and high safety profile for patients.
The implications of this decision could have had life-altering impacts on patients. It would have caused some to change their treatment options, which could have delayed care and might have even worsened their condition. As soon as I became aware of this problem, I took immediate steps to restore access to these treatment options to all Medicare beneficiaries.
There is more work to be done.
Congress, policymakers, and medical professionals, must continue to work on solutions that make it possible for Americans to receive personalized medical care. If we are to strengthen America’s ability in address the increase of glaucoma cases, then we must promote solutions that best fit a patient’s needs. If a surgery or treatment option has gone through the necessary FDA approvals and meets the threshold of results it should be available to Medicare beneficiaries. A patients’ location should not determine the type of care or treatment options they have available.
With these three initiatives: increasing awareness, prioritizing treatment options, and ensuring equitable distribution of benefits, America’s health care system can have a substantial impact on glaucoma.
This month more than ever, we should be focusing our attention on glaucoma and those who are seeking treatment for it. The MACs are doing the right thing in reversing their decision, but I will not rest until inequitable decisions like these are no longer a reality.
Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks represents the 1st District Iowa and is a member of the GOP Doctors Caucus.