by Melanie Brunson

Much of the activity around Washington, both at the White House and in the halls of Congress, is currently focused on reform of our nations health care system. The goal of this activity, as expressed by a number of policymakers, is to craft a plan that is comprehensive and will insure that health care is both available to and affordable by all Americans.

Since the number of those Americans who are living with vision loss is expected to rise exponentially over the next few years, ACB has joined with other blindness organizations to call for the inclusion in health care reform legislation of provisions that will address the unique needs of Americans who are blind or visually impaired.

Specifically, ACB is urging Congress to include provisions that will:

1. require retail pharmacies to offer, upon request by a customer, access to drug container labeling and related information using a non-visual, or enhanced visual means which is of the customers choosing, and conforms to national minimum standards that insure customer privacy, consistency and reliability;

2. establish clear Medicare (or other national minimum benefit plan) coverage for, and promote greater availability through, private plans of low-vision devices and other medically necessary assistive technologies; and

3. establish an unambiguous policy of reimbursement by Medicare (or other national minimum benefit plan) to orientation and mobility specialists, vision rehabilitation therapists, and low-vision therapists for the essential services they provide to individuals experiencing vision loss.

To date, none of these issues has been adequately addressed by Congress or national regulatory authorities. We believe that the advent of a national discussion on health care issues has given us a great opportunity to change that trend. Over the next few months, we will be working with others throughout the blindness community to bring these concerns to the attention of legislators and other policymakers. Our goal is that as they shape the future of our countrys health care system, they will address the unique needs of people who live with vision loss. There is widespread support for this effort throughout the blind community, and it is our hope that each of you who reads this will be counted among those supporters.

If you would like to help, please contact your representative and senators. More detailed information can be obtained about each of the issues listed above by contacting Eric Bridges at the ACB national office. However, if you use prescription medications and have ever had problems that arose from your inability to read the labels on those medications, you can tell members of Congress why this issue must be addressed as part of health care reform. If you are aware of low-vision aids that could help you make more effective use of the vision you still have, especially for meeting your health care needs, but are unable to afford the equipment, you can convey your story to members of Congress. If you know the value of good orientation and mobility instruction, have been helped by a low-vision therapist, or a vision rehabilitation therapist, you have information your member of Congress could benefit from. Start with what you know. We can help with additional information if that is needed, but lets pool our resources and make the most of the opportunity this national dialogue has given us to enhance the quality of life, security, and independence of blind Americans.

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