Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of acquired blindness among Americans of working age. The resulting economic and societal burdens are of profound magnitude. Epidemiologic and clinical trials data were used to analyze the impact of improved recruitment of patients with Type I diabetes mellitus into screening and treatment programs. The analysis predicted annual savings of $101.0 million and 47,374 person-years-sight at the currently estimated 60% screening and treatment implementation level. If all patients received appropriate eye care, the predicted savings exceed 167.0 million and 79,236 person-years-sight. Approximately two thirds of all savings result from treatment of proliferative diabetic retinopathy, while nearly one third arises from treatment of clinically significant macular edema. Additional savings of $9571 are realized with each recruitment of a newly diagnosed patient with diabetes. Initiating screening immediately upon diagnosis of diabetes, rather than the currently recommended 5-year deferral, would be cost effective if 1 additional individual in 56 were recruited. This model suggests that improved delivery of ophthalmic care to patients with diabetes would yield substantial financial and visual savings, thus making major recruitment programs such as the National Eye Institute's National Eye Health Education Program and the American Academy of Ophthalmology's Diabetes 2000, both economically and clinically effective.