Optometrists Accepted for Social Security Visual Impairment Cases

The Social Security Administration published a rule yesterday finalizing the addition of licensed optometrists to the list of "acceptable medical sources" for impairment cases. The rule will take effect April 2 but does not apply to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The agency's rules require a claimant to show he or she has a medically determinable impairment with evidence from an "acceptable medical source" -- in other words, an individual who has the training and expertise to report based on medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques that establish a medically determinable physical or mental impairment. SSA considered adding optometrists more than a decade ago and discussed this with the American Optometric Association but did not do so because licensing requirements and scope of practice varied considerably among jurisdictions at that time.

A recent review of accreditation and practice requirements shows that, with the exception of the U.S. Virgin Islands, the licensing requirements, scope of treatment, and diagnostic protocols for licensed optometrists are sufficient to qualify them for visual disorders. (The U.S. Virgin Islands does not allow optometrists to administer or prescribe pharmaceuticals, and thus they "are not qualified to perform a complete evaluation of the eye," yesterday's rule states.) SSA received 25 sets of comments on the optometrists issue when it was proposed last year, and 23 supported it. SSA said one effect of this change is that individuals with visual disorders will qualify for benefits more quickly.

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