The new US National Health Interview Survey reveals fewer Americans had difficulty affording eyeglasses from 2014 to 2016 compared with 2008. The researchers speculate this is related to economic recovery and health care reform. Despite the upward trend, the survey also found disparities among certain patient populations such as women and racial/ethnic minorities.

The survey included adults from nine population-based samples that ranged in size from 21,781 to 36,697 participants from 2008 to 2016. Researchers looked at the number of visits to an eye care professional and the inability to afford eyeglasses when needed in the past year. They adjusted for age, sex, race/ethnicity, visual impairment status, education, employment, general health, poverty-income ratio and vision insurance to boil down the data to just associations between survey year and eye care outcomes.

Between 2008 and 2016, American were less likely to seek eye care, the survey found. And, by 2016, more of the US population was 65 years or older, Hispanic or Asian compared with 2008. Numbers took an upward swing in 2014, with fewer patients reporting difficulty affording eyeglasses.

Unfortunately, the data also show those with visual impairment were more likely to use eye care, but had greater difficulty affording eyeglasses compared with those without visual impairment. The same was true for women, who were more likely to use eye care and report difficulty affording eyeglasses compared with men. Racial minorities such as blacks, Asians and Hispanics were less likely to use eye care, while Asian and black individuals were less likely to have difficulty affording eyeglasses.

Varadaraj V, Frick KD, Jinan B. Saaddine JB, et al. Trends in eye care use and eyeglasses affordability: the US national health interview survey, 2008-2016. JAMA Ophthalmol. January 24, 2019. [Epub ahead of print].