Regular Eye Exams Can Help Save Sight of Diabetics

November is "Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month"

One in four Americans age 65 or older has diabetes, putting them at increased risk for vision loss and blindness. Fortunately, diabetes-related vision loss is largely preventable with regular care. Yet studies have found a majority of Medicare beneficiaries with diabetes do not get the necessary eye exams despite the fact that the exams could be covered under their existing insurance.

The California Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons (CAEPS) and the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) are recognizing November as Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month and reminding older Americans with diabetes that they should obtain these critical eye exams each year.

“When it comes to diabetes-related vision loss, the good news is it is largely preventable. Unfortunately, many seniors in California are simply not aware that they need these eye exams,” said Leah Levi, MD, CAEPS president. “This month we are encouraging seniors—indeed, all Californians with diabetes—to take a minute to think about whether they have had an exam within a year, and if not, to make an appointment as soon as possible.”

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can affect the small blood vessels in the eyes, causing them to leak and grow irregularly. This leads to vision loss if left untreated. This condition is known as diabetic retinopathy and affects about 30 percent of people living with diabetes. It can also lead to other blinding ocular complications, such as diabetic macular edema. In this disease, the macula—the part of the eye responsible for detailed vision—swells, damaging vision and leading to blindness. Risk for these complications increases with age and duration of diabetes.

To prevent diabetes-related vision loss, both Academies recommend people with diabetes get a dilated eye exam each year. Getting these exams can help prevent 95 percent of this type of vision loss. The exams are performed by ophthalmologists—physicians that specialize in medical and surgical eye care—and optometrists. For those with Medicare, because plans vary, people with diabetes should talk with their primary care doctor to determine the best process for setting up an eye exam. Those with Medicare Advantage may have different benefits from those with only Medicare Part B, which is traditional Medicare. Those with commercial insurance would need to check their specific policy.

Comprehensive eye exams include putting dilating drops into the eyes to help the pupil expand. This allows a better view of the retina—the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye—and makes it easier to see early signs of diabetic retinopathy. Cameras may also be used to record any disease progression. These special cameras include a microscope to get close-up images of the retina.

These eye exams allow early detection, monitoring and, if needed, treatment of diabetic eye disease. This can prevent unnecessary vision loss, enabling people with diabetes to continue to live full and productive lives. Such exams also allow checking for conditions such as glaucoma and cataracts, for which people with diabetes are at an increased risk.

“It is essential for people with diabetes to get eye exams every year,” said Rahul N. Khurana, MD, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a member of the CAEPS Board of Councilors, and a retina specialist. “Sometimes my patients are surprised to find that Medicare or other insurance covers these sight-saving exams, which are simply one of the best steps a person can take toward preventing vision loss.”

For those with Medicare, the program covers 80 percent of the cost of eye exams for people with diabetes and the remaining 20 percent is typically paid for by the patient. If this cost is a concern, EyeCare America may be able to help. This is a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. It can help older Americans get a comprehensive eye exam and up to one year of care at no out-of-pocket cost. Learn more or see if you or your loved one qualifies at 


Patient Safety Message Carries

Please THANK legislators for protecting patient safety by clicking HERE to send an email using our contact system.

Thanks to the strong advocacy efforts of CAEPS, the California Medical Association, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and other specialty societies including the California Academy of Family Physicians, bills that  would have given California Nurse Practitioners and Optometrists sweeping new privileges failed to advance from the Assembly Business and Professions Committee at its final meeting for the year on July 14th. The bills are therefore no longer eligible for consideration in 2015, but can be heard again next year.

All the above listed groups opposed the bills based on patient safety concerns.

SB 323  (Hernandez) would have allowed Nurse Practitioners the ability to practice without physician supervision in some settings and to  perform procedures "recognized by the nursing profession as appropriate,"  without any specific training requirements. 

SB 622 (Hernandez), would have allowed pathways to optometric surgery, with unacceptable amounts of training:

  • Scalpel eyelid surgeries to remove, destroy, or drain lesions of the eyelid and adnexa "clinically evaluated by the optometrist to be noncancerous," with certain limits after a 25-hour course and as few as 32 cases on humans.

  • Glaucoma laser surgery (SLT and ALT) and YAG capsulotomy after a 25-hour course and as few as 24 cases (8 of each type) on humans.

  • Intraocular (and other) injections.

Please THANK legislators for protecting patient safety by clicking HERE to send an email using our contact system.

Thank you for your efforts to help us protect patient safety.

For more information, contact CAEPS at

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