Update on ACB's Efforts to Obtain Medicare Coverage for Low Vision Aids

by Melanie Brunson

In December 2013, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) introduced H.R. 3749, the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act of 2013. This bill seeks to right a wrong that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have perpetrated for many years by denying coverage of low-vision devices for Medicare recipients.  As many of you know, CMS has elected to very narrowly interpret the regulations so that devices that have one or more lenses are treated the same as eyeglasses.  ACB is very pleased with the efforts by Reps. Maloney and Bilirakis to correct this situation through legislation.
In a press release issued by ACB on Dec. 16, 2013, ACB president Kim Charlson said, "These tools are often essential for individuals with low vision who, without the aid of assistive technology, cannot read prescriptions, medicine bottles, and other important materials containing content that is vital to their personal health and safety as well as read their mail, pay bills, etc."
Without the aid of such assistive devices, many more individuals will be forced into assisted living facilities as our population ages. Seniors on fixed incomes often find the cost of such devices burdensome and therefore are unlikely to be able to afford to purchase them on their own.
H.R. 3749 seeks to do the following:

  • Individuals would be eligible to participate in the demonstration project only after completing a low-vision exam performed by a physician who would then deem a low-vision device as medically necessary.
  • It would allow reimbursement for certain low-vision devices that cost $500 or more as durable medical equipment.
  • The legislation would evaluate, through a five-year national demonstration project administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, the fiscal impact of a permanent change to the Social Security Act.

The national demonstration project is designed to provide a rich, well-structured and defined data set that can yield Medicare-program-wide evidence-based conclusions using appropriate statistical methods.
There is widespread support for this legislative approach within the blindness community.  We look forward to working with Reps. Maloney and Bilirakis, as well as our partners in the blindness field, to see that this demonstration project becomes a reality.  If you would like to help, or if you have questions about it, please contact the ACB national office.