Q: I am beginning to have some problems with my vision but am unsure of which doctors are trained to do what procedures. Can you provide definitions for doctors and/or providers of eye care?

A: I’d be glad to. It is very important to know the difference between the types of eye care specialists and the services they are qualified to perform.

There are three types of eye care specialists: ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians.

Ophthalmologists are physicians who are either medical doctors or osteopathic physicians. They specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases of the eye and may perform surgery. They are also licensed to prescribe drugs, administer eye examinations and dispense eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Optometrists, while they have earned doctor of optometry degrees, are not medical doctors. They can, however, examine eyes for vision problems and eye diseases. They are also licensed to dispense eyeglasses and contact lenses.

The ability of optometrists to diagnose and treat eye diseases and prescribe drugs varies from state to state. In California they can dilate a patient’s eyes but must refer the patient to a licensed ophthalmologist for appropriate medical treatment.

Opticians fill prescriptions for eyewear written by ophthalmologists and optometrists. They may not prescribe lenses. Federal law gives you the right to a copy of your eyeglass prescription so that you can shop for the best value in eyewear.

This Prescription Release Rule requires eye doctors to give you your eyeglass prescription at no extra cost immediately after an eye exam where it is determined that a prescription is needed to correct your vision.

Whenever you are in doubt don’t hesitate to ask your doctor about specific services he or she is licensed to perform.

Q: My neighbor receives an SSI check from the federal government each month. Is this the same as Social Security?

A: No. SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, is different from Social Security even though the Social Security Administration oversees the SSI program. The money actually comes from the general fund of the U. S. Treasury and not from the Social Security Trust Fund.

SSI is a direct cash assistance program for people who are in financial need. Payments are made to people 65 and older, or who are blind or disabled who meet the strict eligibility requirements.

There are two portions to the SSI payments: one is the funding by the federal government, which comes from the general fund of the U.S. Treasury; the second funding is from the State Supplemental Pay Program. For convenience of the recipients the federal and state governments combine their payments into one check, which is rendered by the federal government.

To qualify, applicants must have little or no income and very few assets. They must be either United States citizens or in this country legally.

If an applicant is eligible for any other benefits such as Social Security, they must apply for those benefits before eligibility for SSI can be determined. If the applicant is eligible because of a disability, he or she must accept vocational rehabilitation services if they are offered.

For more information about eligibility and benefits contact your local Social Security office or visit www.socialsecurity.gov.


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