Press Releases

Rep. Roybal-Allard Leads 123 House Members on Bill to Lift Vision, Dental and Hearing Restrictions Under Medicare

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Washington, January 12, 2017 | Ben Soskin ((202) 225-1766) | comments
Today, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) led 123 of her fellow House Members in introducing the Seniors Have Eyes, Ears and Teeth Act, a bill to allow seniors covered by Medicare to access basic healthcare necessities such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, and dental care.  This bill removes the restrictions currently in place prohibiting Medicare from offering these important health services.  Expanding Medicare to cover vision, dental and hearing services would prevent health care costs due to accidents, falls, cognitive impairments, an increase in chronic conditions, and oral cancer, in addition to reducing depression and social isolation.  Congresswoman Roybal-Allard also spoke in support of her bill in the House of Representatives this morning.

“I am introducing this bill because our seniors should have the gifts of hearing, vision, and oral health,” said Congresswoman Roybal-Allard.  “Few bills are ever introduced with the overwhelming support that we have seen for the Seniors Have Eyes, Ears and Teeth Act, and the reason is clear: many seniors are in desperate need of hearing services, dental care, vision exams, and essential devices like hearing aids and eyeglasses.  These seniors need us to stand up for them.  If we pass this bill, we can lift Medicare's exclusion of these vital services, and help our seniors enjoy their golden years in good health and with peace of mind.”

“For the 57 million seniors and disabled who are enrolled in Medicare, their eyes, ears and teeth are not optional equipment yet the lack of Medicare coverage for vision, hearing and dental care seems to say otherwise,” said Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, who also wrote a letter in support of this bill.  “Providing coverage for the whole person will help to keep seniors healthy and independent.  Not only does this make sense for seniors, it can add up to savings in Medicare since healthier beneficiaries are less likely to require more expensive coverage for chronic or life threatening conditions.  We’re very thankful that Representative Roybal-Allard has introduced a bill to add this critically important coverage which will provide economic relief and expanded health care access for seniors.”

“Human Services Association advocates for hundreds of senior citizens annually that cannot afford proper dental, vision, and hearing care,” said Leticia D. Chacon, LCSW, Chief Executive Officer of Human Services Association in Bell Gardens, CA.  “Without these basic vital services seniors are placed carelessly on a path to premature institutionalization.  We wholeheartedly support this important legislation which will provide services that will save lives and increase quality of life for seniors everywhere.”

“Congresswoman Roybal-Allard’s Seniors Have Eyes, Ears and Teeth Act will help seniors throughout our district,” said Karla Chitay, BSW, Service Coordinator at Murray Place in Bell, CA.  “Without eyes we can't see, without ears we can't hear, without teeth we can't eat.  Where are we going to end up when we lose all three of these important functions?  We need Medicare to help us cover the cost in order to have an independent life and age in our own home.”

Since its implementation in 1965, Medicare has excluded coverage for hearing aids and related audiology services, routine dental care and routine eye exams and eyeglasses, despite the large numbers of older Americans who need such items and services.
• Hearing loss affects more than 40% of people over 60 years old, more than 60% of those over 70 years old, and almost 80% of those over 80 years old.  It is increasingly well-documented that untreated hearing loss often leads to a variety of serious health problems and injuries, including higher risk of dementia and falls.
• Individuals older than 70 years account for approximately 80% of the 2.8 million Americans with low vision (defined as vision loss, other than blindness, not correctable with refraction, medication or surgery).  Sensory impairments, such as vision loss, not only diminish quality of life but increase the risk of costly health outcomes such as disability, depression, cognitive impairment, and dementia.
• Nearly 70% of older Americans currently have no form of dental insurance.  Data shows that neglect of oral health may result in the deterioration of overall physical health, and lack of access to even routine dental exams and cleanings can exacerbate serious and complicated overall health problems that increase with age.

Unfortunately, paying for these services out-of-pocket is a hardship for the more than half of Medicare beneficiaries who live on incomes below $24,150 per year.
• Only one in five Americans currently diagnosed with hearing issues uses a hearing aid, the costs of which can range from $1,000 to $6,000.   The vast majority of those who could benefit from a hearing aid cite financial barriers to obtaining them as the reason for not using one.
• Routine eye exams can range in cost from $50 to $300 or more, and the average cost for a pair of prescription glasses is $196.
• Lack of dental insurance is a major access barrier to dental care for older adults.

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