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June 14, 2023

By Dr. Craig Hersh, Vice President, Chief Medical Officer, Florida Blue

Routine Eye and Dental Exams Are Vital to Total Health

Health care leaders are well aware of the staggering health care costs associated with treating illnesses that are not caught early. From heart attacks and strokes to vision loss and kidney failure, these conditions not only take a toll on patients' quality of life but also require an extensive amount of care that could be significantly lessened with early detection and intervention.

It may be surprising to learn that routine dental and eye exams are vital to overall health and can help detect serious diseases early, which can be lifesaving. Yet, an estimated 47% of adults in the U.S. have not been to a dentist in the past year,1 and only half of the 93 million adults at risk for blindness have seen an eye doctor in the past year.2

The real costs of limited access to preventive care

Medical care can be expensive, but the costs are even higher for some. Diabetes and high blood pressure, for example, can be detected during a routine eye exam. These conditions drive some of the highest health care needs and associated costs in the U.S. medical system. If identified early, these conditions can often be treated before they turn into severe and costly medical complications like heart attacks, strokes, loss of vision, kidney failure, or even amputations.

Similarly, through dental exams, dentists can identify and treat issues like tooth decay and gum disease, which left untreated can cause heart disease, pneumonia, endocarditis, and even complications with pregnancy or birth. Poor oral health can also worsen ongoing conditions, like diabetes.

Furthermore, racial and ethnic minorities bear more of the burden of the diabetes epidemic in our communities. In general, people of color are often diagnosed with diabetes later, are less likely to have access to care, and as a result are more likely to have costly complications that range from losing their vision to losing their lives. For these minority groups, getting eye and dental exams may be their most important health care visits of all as they can serve as a front door to their overall health.

Access to health care is not a luxury; it’s fundamental to the well-being of every individual and to our communities. As an industry, it requires bold moves to reimagine our health care system as one that puts the health and well-being of our patients first. 

Removing barriers to preventive care in at-risk communities

Through grants, donations, and partnerships with community organizations, Florida Blue and Florida Blue Foundation have helped provide free dental exams and eye screenings in some of the most vulnerable communities we serve in Florida for more than 30 years. We’re reaching adults and children who are impacted by social disparities that lead to a lack of access to health care, food, transportation, education, and other essential needs. And we’re committed to continuing to take action and make an impact to deliver on our mission to help people and communities achieve better health.

Driving more value-based care arrangements between payers and providers make a difference with preventive care

Addressing health inequities and tackling access to affordable care is not something we can do alone. It requires working together with like-minded providers and community partners who are committed to expand access to high-quality care, including that for routine dental and vision care, in our communities. As an industry, moving to value-based care is a critical, effective way we’re able to provide health care that more people can afford. We’re collaborating with providers who share this vision for and engage patients in more wellness and preventive care. Instead of simply treating symptoms, value-based care focuses on getting people healthy faster and keeping them healthy longer. We must shift from the common fee-for-service structure that pays doctors based on the number of procedures delivered, and instead quickly move to focus on the value of services delivered and incentivizes providers to drive healthy outcomes for their patients.

The bottom line

Early detection leads to improved health outcomes for people. Routine eye and dental exams can set patients on a course to make a lasting difference in their overall health. Florida Blue, along with other leaders in the health care industry, have the power to address social determinants of health in our communities and incentivize providers to prioritize preventive care through these routine exams. It not only benefits the patients' health but also results in lower health care costs for payers and consumers. It's a win-win situation. Let's work together to ensure everyone has access to these vital services.


1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Oral and Dental Health”

2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Keep an Eye on Your Vision Health”