Saskatchewan expands vision care for diabetics

Saskatchewan now provides full coverage for annual eye examinations for all 90,000 residents living with diabetes. Karen Bleier / Getty Images

REGINA – Adults living with diabetes in Saskatchewan will benefit from improved access to vision care as the provincial government announced Monday it is now fully covering the cost of annual eye examinations.

As of October, coverage was expanded to include residents living with diabetes aged 18 or older.

“Expanding the coverage to include adults with diabetes is part of our commitment to provide better access to primary health services and patient-centred health care for our residents,” said Dustin Duncan, Saskatchewan’s health minister.

This new vision care coverage is part of a new agreement between the ministry and the Saskatchewan Association of Optometrists (SAO).

SAO says that prior to Oct. 1, coverage for ocular assessments were only covered when provided by ophthalmologists. This proved to be a financial barrier and now diabetics will be able to access eye care from their family optometrist.

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“Doctors of optometry will continue to collaborate and communicate with ophthalmologists, family physicians and other health care providers to ensure the best possible patient outcomes for the eye health of our patients,” said Dr. Kevin Woodard, SAO president.

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The Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) says it is pleased to see the government’s decision to help prevent vision loss – a possible secondary complication for those living with the disease.

“Receiving comprehensive annual eye examinations is essential to catch retinal changes as early as possible and ultimately help preserve vision for the more than 90,000 people living with diabetes in the province,” says Warren Wagner, CDA regional direction for Saskatchewan.

CDA says diabetics are more likely to develop cataracts younger and are twice as likely to develop glaucoma. However, diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of new cases of impaired vision in the country.

“By the time someone with diabetic retinopathy notices changes in their vision, the opportunity for prevention has been lost. However, if retinopathy is detected at an early stage, it can be effectively treated with laser therapy,” said Wagner.

According to CDA, it is currently estimated that 8.2 per cent of the Saskatchewan population is diagnosed with diabetes and this will rise to 10.9 per cent by 2024.

“As our population ages, we can expect an increase in the incidence of diabetic eye disease; therefore, the demand for optometric services will significantly increase,” said Woodard.

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The estimated cost of covering eye examinations for Saskatchewan diabetics until the end of the agreement in March 2016 is $1.15 million.

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