California lawmakers are currently weighing a legislative proposal that would bring vision care options to qualified individuals and employers through an exchange.

As the California legislature comes back from its summer recess this week, state senators are expected to consider AB 1877, otherwise known as the California Vision Care Council Act. First introduced by Assembly member Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova, Calif.) in February, the bipartisan bill passed the assembly floor in May, and made it out of Senate Health Committee hearings the following month.

Also See: Why the ACA has opened a sales door for vision insurance

Building on the success of Covered California, the state’s public health exchange mandated by the Affordable Care Act, the California Vision Care Council will create a “vision care access marketplace,” which will be the place where people can access eye care options.

“The ACA really didn’t have a place for routine eye services,” Cooley tells EBN, while noting that the proposal comes following a “two-year conversation” on vision care access in the state.

One key difference is there will be no mandated contribution from the state of California. The proposed marketplace will be created and operated through a trust that will be funded by vision care providers, Cooley says.

The council will “construct, manage, and maintain a marketplace for the purchase of vision plans through participating carriers by qualified individuals and qualified employers and would require the council to facilitate enrollment of those individuals and employers in plans offered by the council through licensed insurance agents,” the bill states.

According to Cooley, employers who send their employees to the state exchange ACA can up their health care benefits by offering vision care. “I more view it as permitting employers to have a broader access to services for their employees,” Cooley explains.

A Covered California spokesperson said the exchange does not provide comment on pending legislation. Meanwhile, according to Covered California’s website, vision and dental plan coverage is only available to children. However, starting this year, the state exchange says it is considering adding both vision and dental as “supplemental plans” for adults.

“The timing of adding these benefits has not been determined,” Covered California says on its website.

Others in the small-business employer community say that additional coverage is a welcome benefit.

“Anything that adds [coverage options], as far as the public exchange is concerned, you’re going to want to provide what you are providing now,” says Scott Hauge, president of Small Business California, a business advocacy organization. “This could be significant.”

Hauge, also president and owner of CAL Insurance & Associates, an agency that specializes in providing insurance for small- to medium-sized businesses, says that while vision coverage may not be in high demand for small businesses, it can be a blessing when offered.

Also See: California delays ACA for small employers

“I don’t think a lot of small business are thinking about this but, again, if you are providing coverage … you would want to provide vision, so it’s all to the good,” Hauge explains. “Who would be against something like this?”

Jim McGrann, president of VSP Vision Care, a nonprofit vision benefits and services company with over 60 million members, adds that preventative vision care can be a boon to public health.

“This is a benefit that employers can’t completely experience from the exchanges because, although vision care is considered an essential benefit for children, stand-alone vision plans are not available to adult enrollees,” McGrann says. “A potential solution to make vision plans available through one state’s exchange is AB 1877 [which] would enable adult Covered California enrollees to purchase affordable stand-alone vision coverage.”

AB 1877 is currently sitting in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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