An Alabama company criticized for its methods by some medical experts is making millions as the official vision tester for younger schoolchildren in Florida. Now Florida health officials are objecting to the arrangement as well.
Vision Research Inc., which uses a NASA-developed technology called photorefraction, has received $4.4 million since 1997 for vision screening in each of Florida’s 67 school districts without submitting a bid. State budget language is so specific that it excludes Vision Research’s competitors, officials said.
Using a special camera that takes color pictures of the eye, the company’s technology can pick up problems that standard eye charts cannot, according to Vision Research. But a number of local school boards have reported problems with the company, ranging from the disputed accuracy of its eye exam results to its alleged failure to promptly meet scheduling needs.
In Georgia–where Vision Research also conducts some vision tests in schools–lack of competition for the state contract put the company at the center of a controversy earlier this year. As a result, Georgia state officials are planning to solicit bids for the vision screening service next year.
In Florida, school officials in Hillsborough and several other counties have refused to spend the money approved by the state Legislature, balking at letting Vision Research conduct the eye tests. State Department of Health officials, meanwhile, have said the screenings are unnecessarily duplicating cheaper, existing vision testing services.