Medicare Can Help Protect Your Eyesight

Courtesy uhhospitals.org    Medicare covers a glaucoma test once every 12 months for people at high risk for glaucoma. Be sure to have annual eye exams and catch it early.

Are you at risk for glaucoma? Glaucoma is an eye disease that causes loss of vision — usually side vision — by damaging the optic nerve. That’s the nerve that sends information from the eyes to the brain. Some forms of glaucoma don’t have any symptoms, so you may have it without having trouble seeing or feeling any pain. That’s why glaucoma is often called “the sneak thief of sight.”

Fortunately, vision loss can be prevented by finding and treating problems early. Medicare covers a glaucoma test once every 12 months for people at high risk for glaucoma, including people who answer “yes” to one or more of these questions:

  • Do you have diabetes?
  • Do you have a family history of glaucoma?
  • Are you African American and 50 or older?
  • Are you Hispanic American and 65 or older?

Glaucoma tests are covered under Medicare Part B (medical insurance). An eye doctor who’s legally allowed to do this test in your state must do or supervise the screening. How much will the test cost? You pay 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount, and the Part B deductible ($183 this year) applies. If the test is done in a hospital outpatient setting, a copayment is required.

To find out how much a specific test will cost, talk to your doctor or other health care provider. The specific amount owed may depend on several things. These include: other insurance; how much a doctor charges; whether a doctor accepts Medicare payment as full payment; and the location and type of facility where you’re tested. 

There is no cure for glaucoma. Vision lost from the disease cannot be restored. Without treatment, people with glaucoma will slowly lose their peripheral (side) vision. If glaucoma remains untreated, people may not see objects to the side and out of the corners of their eyes. They seem to be looking through a tunnel. Over time, straight-ahead (central) vision may decrease until no vision remains.

Immediate treatment for early-stage, open-angle glaucoma can delay progression of the disease. That’s why early diagnosis is very important. Glaucoma treatments include medicines, laser trabeculoplasty, conventional surgery or a combination of these. While these treatments may save remaining vision, they do not improve sight already lost from glaucoma.

Glaucoma is detected through a comprehensive dilated eye exam that includes the following:

  • Visual acuity test. This eye-chart test measures how well a patient sees at various distances.
  • Visual field test. This test measures peripheral vision. It helps eye care professionals tell if a patient has lost peripheral vision, a sign of glaucoma.
  • Dilated eye exam. In this exam, drops are placed in the eyes to widen, or dilate, the pupils. Eye care professionals use a special magnifying lens to examine the retina and optic nerve for signs of damage and other eye problems. After the exam, close-up vision may remain blurred for several hours.
  • Tonometry measures pressure inside the eye by using an instrument called a tonometer. A tonometer can detect glaucoma. Numbing drops may be applied to the eye for this test.
  • Pachymetry is the measurement of the thickness of the cornea. Eye care professionals apply a numbing drop to the eye and use an ultrasonic wave instrument to measure the thickness of the cornea.

For more information on glaucoma, visit https://nei.nih.gov/health/glaucoma/glaucoma_facts.

Greg Dill is Medicare’s regional administrator for Arizona, California, Nevada, Hawaii and the Pacific Territories. Get answers to Medicare questions by calling 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227).