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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.
“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.”
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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