State budget cuts may end vision benefits

  • Tue Jan 5th, 2010 10:19pm
  • News

By Gale Fiege Herald Writer

EVERETT — Making sure people can see is a matter of public safety.

That’s one reason Ashley Bradley, a certified optician, is concerned the state could cut a program that supplies eyeglasses to 69,000 low-income adults in Washington state. More than 700 of them live in Snohomish County.

That’s a lot of people who, without glasses, can’t see while driving, much less be safe in the workplace.

“Imagine not being able to see to read or get to work,” Bradley said. “Even entry-level jobs require good vision.”

Washington’s low-income vision program is part of what’s offered through Medicaid, a joint effort by the state and federal governments. Federal money supplies about 60 percent of the vision program’s $3.7 million budget, but if the state can’t come up with its 40 percent, the federal match goes away.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has presented a plan to deal with the state’s $2.7 billion revenue shortfall, offering budget cuts in all departments. She is expected to come back next week with a second budget in which she proposes to “buy back” some programs, said Jim Stevenson, spokesman for the state Department of Social and Health Services.

The adult vision program could be among those, although other social service programs may take priority, Stevenson said.

Cutting the state’s adult vision program would require action by the state Legislature, he said.

Aid to families with children who need glasses is mandatory and not part of the proposed cuts, Stevenson added.

At Everett Family Vision clinic in south Everett, where Bradley is an optician, about a third of the clinic’s patients use Medicaid. Most of those clients are adults, Bradley said.

The elimination of the Medicaid vision program wouldn’t hurt the clinic too much because it isn’t the most lucrative part of the business, office manager Kitel Ogden said.

The frames for Medicaid patients are kept in a large drawer in Bradley’s desk in the clinic. The selection of sizes and styles is basic but decent, she said.

“Getting glasses is not cheap, and it’s not easy to get into the Medicaid program,” Bradley said. “But being able to see is a necessity. People need this state program. And we need everybody to be safe.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.