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STATEMENT OF HON. JULIA BUTLER HANSEN, A REPRESENTATIVE
IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF WASHINGTON
Mrs. HANSEN. Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee on Public Health and Safety, I appreciate very much the privilege of appearing before you today in behalf of my bill, H.R. 8775. This bill, very simply, extends to students of optometry the same benefits available to students of medicine, osteopathy, and dentistry. Under its terms, it would be possible for students of optometry to become eligible for student loans.
Before I comment specifically on this bill, I'd like to mention an article I noted in the May 23 issue of the Washington Post, President and Mrs. Johnson's daughter, Luci Baines Johnson, will work this summer for an optometrist here in Washington, D.C.
The article points out, “The middle of June, Luci will put in 8 hours a week in the office of Dr. Robert A. Kraskin, an optometrist at 4600 Massachusetts Avenue.
"Luci will be one of two assistants with visual training, Luci already knows firsthand about her new job because she took such training herself with Dr. Kraskin."
It is recognized that a group-if it is to become eligible for Government assistance---must be important to the public welfare.
Good sight is necessary for our people to live healthy, productive lives. Without good vision a person simply cannot function as he should. He is often sick. He cannot do his work capably. He is a drag on the economy.
Nowadays very few people past the age of 45 are able to perform efficiently without glasses or without the help of specialists in sight problems. Many of our young people are hampered in their schoolwork because of sight problems and must seek the services of eye specialists. Without correction, their sight problem may well prevent them from becoming productive citizens.
I might note here that though the optometrist serves the civilian population mainly, between 15 and 20 percent of optometry graduating classes enter the Armed Forces serving the sight needs of millions of those who serve in the Armed Forces.
Public health specialists have asserted that there should be 1 practicing optometrist for every 7,000 members of the population. In no State of the Union does this ratio of optometrist to total population exist. Indeed, available data show that the Nation is woefully short of qualified optometrists.
In order to meet the need for optometrists in the United States it is necessary first to increase the enrollment in the optometry schools. At present it is not possible to produce the number of optometrists necessary to satisfy the public needs in terms of death and retirement of optometrists as well as the population increase because of the lack of physical facilities.
Students have difficulty in finding money to begin the program and to complete it. Many optometry students are forced to prolong the length of their program by the necessity to work thus shortening the years of service to the public.
I respectfully urge this subcommittee to approve H.R. 8775 and make it possible for our optometry students to be entitled to student
loans in the same manner as students of medicine, osteopathy, and dentistry.
Thank you so much for your courtesy and thoughtfulness.
Mr. ROGERS of Florida. It has indeed been a pleasure to have you before us this morning.
I would now like to call upon the Congressman from New York, the Honorable Howard W. Robison.
STATEMENT OF HON. HOWARD W. ROBISON, A REPRESENTATIVE
IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Mr. ROBISON. Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to present this statement to your committee in support of the various proposals for Federal loans to students of optometry, including my own bill, H.R. 9313.
H.R. 12, the Health Professions Educational Assistance Act, provided student loans to persons studying medicine, dentistry, and osteopathy, but no such provision was included in that act for loans to optometry students. Therefore, I introduced my separate bill specifically designed to extend to students of optometry and schools of optometry, the provisions for student loan programs. I think all of us must understand and recognize that optometry, the profession licensed specifically to care for vision, is as important to us as dentistry, medicine, or osteopathy and that students of optometry should, in all fairness, be similarly eligible for Federal loans.
In recent years there has been a steady decline in enrollments in schools of optometry. The records show that our colleges graduate only about 500 students of optometry every year, which falls short of the national need. In order for the vision of our citizens to be adequately protected we should be able to provide a minimum of 1 optometrist for every 7,000 people, but, at present, there is approximately only 1 optometrist for every 10,300 people in this country. In 1952 there were 21,483 optometrists in the United States, but by 1962 there were only 21,101. In my own State of New York in 1952 there were 1,948 optometrists, and in 1962 there were 1,912— a decrease of 36. During this same 10-year period, the population of New York State increased from 15,237,000 to 17,402,000-an increase of 2,165,000 people—thereby again considerably reducing the number of optometrists for each resident. Consequently, the demand for optometric services has grown and is growing heavier each year.
The decline in enrollment in schools of optometry has been caused, primarily, by the outstanding salaries offered to graduates in engineering and technologies. Therefore, it is obvious that the incentive to enter the field of optometry—which can be provided by student loan programs-is sorely needed. Loans such as my bill would provide would offer such incentive, would help the student attain his educational goal in the face of rising tuition and fee costs, and would undoubtedly result in a substantial increase in graduates of optometry schools in a few years as has been the result in the educational categories covered in the National Defense Education Act.
Today, we are in an age of science and technology, where maximum visual efficiency is very much needed to develop the best defense weapons and space-exploration devices. We are in an age where
the world's two most powerful nations, the United States and Russia, are, in effect, competing for control of the skies. Without efficient vision our Nation will not be able to match the Soviets in the race for the moon, if it is made, or in any other space venture. In order for us to stay a first-class nation we are going to need increasing numbers of trained optometrists.
It has also been proven that aside from being a “key" to success in our military and space efforts, optometry is of vital importance for business and industrial employees, in reducing highway accidents, in child development, and in leisure time activities, to mention just a few
Mr. Chairman, the cost of this bill is very small, but by its passage the security and health of our great country will be strengthened considerably as prospective students are encouraged to enter the field of optometry. It is my sincere hope that you will act favorably on this biĩl.
I thank you for allowing me to present this statement.
Mr. ROGERS of Florida. Thank you for appearing here this morning
Next we have the Honorable Bernard F. Grabowski, the very able Congressman from Connecticut.
STATEMENT OF HON. BERNARD F. GRABOWSKI, A REPRESENTA
TIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
Mr. GRABOWSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. The gift of vision is priceless, but we must pay a price to keep it. Unless we train enough optometrists and ophthalmologists to meet the demands for eye care there will be much needless suffering from lost eyesight or poor vision. Approximately 75 percent of the people in this country who seek vision care go to optometrists, and yet the Federal Government does not have any adequate provision for loaning optometrists needed funds for their training. Ophthalmology students are eligible for loan assistance under the recently passed Health Professions Educational Assistance Act as are other student doctors, as well as dentists, and osteopaths. In theory, persons studying optometry are eligible for loans under the National Defense Education Act program but students in education, languages, and the pure sciences are given higher priority and so, in practice, optometry is not covered. Chester H. Pheiffer, the dean of the College of Optometry at the University of Houston, said in a statement to the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee that his university alone had to refuse about 60 requests from optometry students for National Defense Education Act loans in 1 year.
Without additional financing for optometry students, we shall find that the already acute shortage of optometrists will grow more severe every year. Our 10 schools of optometry are graduating between 350 and 400 students a year but we need approximately 700 a year just to replace those who die or retire, let alone the 360 a year we need to keep up with our population growth. A member of the American Optometric Association testified that there should be 1 optometrist for every 7,000 persons in the population but in the country as a whole we have less than 1 for every 10,000, and in some
States there is only 1 for every 15,000. This is a great hardship on those who need care and may have to put up with long delays, or travel long distances, or still worse, may receive no care at all.
Only Federal assistance in the form of loans to optometry students can reverse this trend of growing shortages. Private financing cannot do the job alone. In recent years, optometrists have made heroic contributions to their schools, through cash gifts or increases in annual license renewal fees, but endowments and other sources of income are still not sufficient to support all the students who need financial assistance. At the University of Houston, at least 8 percent of the students accepted by the College of Optometry last year were unable to attend for financial reasons. Places are empty at optometry schools because interested students cannot afford the cost of such a specialized education. Dr. Lawrence Fitch, president of the Pennsylvania State College of Optometry, estimated that schools of optometry are now operating at 75 to 80 percent of capacity on the average.
By including optometrists in the Federal program of loans to students of medicine, dentistry, and osteopathy, the Government will be doing the country a very great service at very little cost. Optometrists have an outstanding record of repayment on the private loans they have received.
I urge that the committee take favorable action on H.R. 8546 as a sound, economical way to attack the problem of an ever-increasing shortage of optometrists and to insure Americans adequate eye care.
Mr. ROGERS of Florida. Thank you for an excellent statement, sir.
Our next witness is our colleague from South Carolina, the Honorable William J. B. Dorn.
STATEMENT OF HON. WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN DORN, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Mr. Dorn. Mr. Chairman, I want to congratulate you and members of this committee for holding these hearings. It is always a great pleasure to appear before this distinguished committee.
Mr. Chairman, on November 6, 1963, I introduced a bill similar to H.R. 8546. I hope this bill is passed. It will mean that more students and prospective students of optometry will receive the financial help that will enable them to obtain further education in the field of vision care. Last year, we passed a bill whereby loans are made available to students of medicine, osteopathy, and dentistry; however, students of optometry were not included. I strongly feel that students of optometry should have the same privilege of borrowing and paying interest on student loans the same as the medical, dental, and osteopathic students.
Able men of the profession, more capable than I, will discuss with you the role of the optometrist in raising the visual efficiency of America. There has been dynamic progress in the field of optometry, but more, much more, needs to be done. We already have a shortage of optometrists and failure to act on this bill will result in a further reduction of the number of students who will study optometry in the future. I would like to point out, Mr. Chairman, that South Carolina's population in 1960 was approximately 2,370,000. At that time we had 161 practicing optometrists and 22 physicians who might do some work in this field. Therefore, our ratio in South Carolina was 1 optometrist for every 14,700 people. The national ratio in 1960 was 1 optometrist for every 7,000 people.
Mr. Chairman, the optometrists in South Carolina are doing a tremendous job. South Carolina is rapidly becoming an industrial State. New industry is moving in at a fantastic rate. South Carolina is a leader in the field of industrial vision. The optometrist has a major role to play in industry, and in the future he will play that role in the best interests of individuals and business organizations. Industrial managers are aware of the effects of a good vision program on training time, labor turnover, sickness and absence costs, reduced spoilage, and accident expense.
Mr. Chairman, passage of this bill will be a big step toward insuring a continued flow of able, well-trained optometrists into vision care and into the necessary research connected with vision care.
Thank you for allowing me to appear before this great committee. Mr. ROGERS of Florida. It has been our pleasure, Congressman.
Congressman Matsunaga is our next witness. Welcome to the subcommittee, Congressman.
STATEMENT OF HON. SPARK M. MATSUNAGA, A REPRESENTATIVE
IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF HAWAII
Mr. MATSUNAGA. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to make this statement in support of H.R. 8546, the optometry education bill.
The Hawaii Optometric Association has called to my attention the fact that in Hawaii, as in the rest of the United States, there is a shortage of optometrists. There appears to be a definite need to encourage more students to study optometry. As our Nation's population continues to increase, the demand for our professionals in each field of health, including optometry, likewise increases.
I urge that the committee give H.R. 8546 a favorable report.
Mr. Chairman, I request that a letter from Dr. Richard A. Johnson, corresponding secretary for the Hawaii Optometric Association, explaining their interest in this measure, be made a part of the record.
Mr. ROGERS of Florida. Thank you for appearing here this morning, Congressman, and if there is no objection, the letter will appear at this place in the record. (The letter referred to follows:)
HAWAII OPTOMETRIC ASSOCIATION,
Honolulu, Hawaii, May 23, 1964.
SIR: Our association would like to urge you to support H.R. 8546 which concerns availability of Federal funds for educational loans to optometric students.
In Hawaii, as across our Nation, there is a definite shortage of optometrists. The number of optometric graduates each year does not make up for those presently needed to keep pace with our expanding population. We feel that if Federal education funds were available more prospective college students would be encouraged to enter our profession.