Ruiz, Turner Bill to Require Comprehensive Eye Exams for Children Entering School Clears Senate

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TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Shirley Turner, which would require children entering public schools or Head Start programs to receive a comprehensive eye exam, cleared the Senate today.

“Impaired vision which goes undiagnosed can often hinder academic performance, leading students to be misdiagnosed with learning disorders or reading difficulties,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “Most school vision screenings only test visual acuity, which provides less than four percent of the tests needed to detect vision problems. Requiring a comprehensive eye exam will ensure early detection and prevention which is crucial to our children’s success in their earliest years of school.”

As amended, the bill, S-2804, would direct the State Board of Education to require each child age six and under entering public preschool, public school, or a Head Start Program to have a comprehensive eye exam. The examination would have to be completed by January 1st of the child’s initial year of enrollment.

“Parents often wait to bring a child for a comprehensive eye exam until an issue becomes evident at home or in school,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “By taking a proactive approach we can ensure that vision impairments are not impacting our youngest students’ ability to learn and grow.”

The bill would provide that a child who had a comprehensive eye exam in the year prior to enrollment would not be required to undergo an additional eye exam.

Medicaid, large group plans and plans for small groups and individuals cover comprehensive eye exams for children. For children without health insurance, or whose parents’ plans do not include vision benefits, the bill requires the Department of Health to maintain a list of organizations and programs that provide free or reduced cost exams.

The bill would create a fund where both state and private monies can be deposited to help pay for exams for uninsured children and children without comprehensive eye exam coverage.

The bill was released from the Senate by a vote of 37-0.