Press Releases

Rep. Roybal-Allard Leads 78 House Colleagues on Bill to Lift Vision, Dental, and Hearing Restrictions Under Medicare

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Washington, January 15, 2019 | Ben Soskin ((202) 225-1766) | comments
Today, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) led 78 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 spoke in support of her bill in the House of Representatives this morning, and her speech can be viewed here.

“Giving our older adults the gift of hearing, vision, and oral health would go a long way toward helping our seniors enjoy their golden years free from depression and social isolation,” said Congresswoman Roybal-Allard.  “It is time to recognize that total health care for our seniors must include adequate access to vision, hearing, and dental services.  I urge my colleagues to cosponsor the Seniors Have Eyes, Ears and Teeth Act and ensure a healthier future for all our seniors.”

The full prepared text of the congresswoman’s House speech from this morning is below.

“Madame Speaker, as we begin this new Congress, I am proud to introduce the Seniors Have Eyes, Ears and Teeth Act with 78 of my colleagues.  

“My bill would reverse a long-standing Medicare prohibition on critical health services for our seniors.  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 number of older Americans who critically need these items and services. 

“The Commonwealth Fund reports that among all Medicare beneficiaries who needed a hearing aid, 75 percent did not have one.  Of those who had trouble eating because of problems with their teeth, 70 percent had not seen a dentist in the past year.  And of those who had trouble seeing, 43 percent had not had an eye exam in the past year.

“The reason for many seniors was affordability.  According to the latest statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than half of Medicare beneficiaries live on incomes below $26,200 per year.  For them to pay out-of-pocket creates extreme hardship.  

“Sadly, reliable data shows that neglect of oral health and even the lack of routine dental exams and cleanings can deteriorate overall physical health, and exacerbate serious and complicated health problems that increase with age.  It is also increasingly well-documented that untreated vision and hearing loss diminishes quality of life, and increases the risk of costly health outcomes such as falls and resulting disability, depression, and dementia.

“My bill would remove the restrictions currently prohibiting Medicare coverage of these basic healthcare necessities such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, and dental care.  Expanding Medicare coverage for these services is a cost-effective intervention that will prevent accidents, falls, cognitive impairments, and increases in chronic conditions and oral cancer.

“Madame Speaker, if we do not address these gaps in health coverage now, the overall health of our aging population will continue to suffer, and the need for costly and avoidable services will increase.  But most importantly, giving our older adults the gift of hearing, vision, and oral health would go a long way toward helping our seniors enjoy their golden years free from depression and social isolation.

“It is time to recognize that total health care for our seniors must include adequate access to vision, hearing, and dental services.  I urge my colleagues to cosponsor the Seniors Have Eyes, Ears and Teeth Act and ensure a healthier future for all our seniors.”

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