The Economic Burden of Vision Loss and Eye Disorders in the United States

This project was funded by Prevent Blindness America (PBA) with the goal of creating the first comprehensive estimate of the economic burden of vision loss and eye disorders in the United States.  Our report, “Cost of Vision: The Economic Burden of Vision Loss and Eye Disorders in the United States” serves to update the 2007 PBA-sponsored report “The Economic Impact of Eye Problems”.  The 2007 report has stood as the primary estimate of the economic impact of eye and vision problems since its publication, but was subject to a number of limitations that led to an underestimate of total costs, including the omission of persons younger than age 40, the lack of inclusion of a number of cost categories, and the restriction of medical costs to only four eye diseases. 

The total economic burden of eye disorders and vision loss in the United States in 2013 is $139 billion.  This includes $65 billion in direct medical costs due to eye disorders and low vision.  Loss of vision among workers results in $48 billion in lost productivity per year, with another $2 billion in opportunity costs due to the need for informal care.  Long-term care attributable to vision loss accounts for another $20 billion in costs per year.  Other direct costs, including special education, screening, government assistance programs, and low vision aids and devices total $1.7 billion.  Transfer payments and tax deductions cost the government $2.5 billion, incurring approximately $1 billion in deadweight losses.  The total economic burden estimate is substantially higher than identified in the 2007 report; most of this difference is due to the inclusion of additional cost categories. 

We estimated medical costs in the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) dataset using a 2-part generalized linear model with gamma distribution and log-link, controlling for double counting of costs for persons with multiple conditions. Productivity losses are based on analysis of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), while estimates of the prevalence of vision loss among the population younger than age 40 are based on National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data.

Our findings indicate that the overall cost of vision to the US economy is substantially higher than previously measured.  At $139 billion in the year 2013, vision loss and eye disorders are among the costliest conditions facing the United States, incurring a cost of $450 per person.  Annual costs for are $15,900 for persons with vision impairment and are $26,900 for persons blind.  These results, particularly the high indirect costs, indicate the need for ongoing efforts to improve diagnosis and management to prevent future eye disorders and vision loss.