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US House Bill Would Expand Medicare to Include Vision Care

The legislation would expand Medicare Part B coverage.

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WASHINGTON, DC – Four federal legislators have reintroduced a bill to expand Medicare coverage to provide affordable vision care.

Currently, gaps in Medicare “make it hard for 60 million seniors and younger people with disabilities to afford vision services,” according to a press release from Rep. Kim Schrier, MD, a Democrat from Washington state. The bill was reintroduced by Schrier and Democrats Tom O’Halleran of Arizona, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Suzan DelBene of Washington.

According to the release, the Medicare Vision Act of 2021 would:

  • Expand Medicare Part B coverage to include annual routine eye exams, procedures, and contact lens fitting services
  • Provide coverage for one pair of eyeglasses or a one-year supply of contact lenses
  • Provide a path to coverage for low vision aids

“We want to make sure that seniors can live independently for as long as possible,” Schrier said. “An important factor of independent living is making sure that they can see well enough to drive to appointments, walk safely around the house, and carefully read prescriptions. The pandemic has made it harder to access support or assistance for those who need it. As a doctor, I am concerned about the number of older Americans who haven’t had an eye exam in more than a year and might have undiagnosed eye conditions, like macular degeneration or glaucoma. People with poor vision can suffer from deceased physical activity and increased social isolation, which can lead to deteriorating health. Expanding access in Medicare to cover vision services and low vision aids will ensure that both older Americans and young Americans with disabilities have access to affordable care.”

DelBene said: “The overwhelming majority of us will need vision care as we age but these services can be costly without appropriate coverage. Expanding Medicare to include basic vision care will help improve the lives of millions of seniors. Currently, many seniors are living with undiagnosed eye problems, and providing them access to routine eye exams and other vision services will improve their overall health and save them money.”

An estimated 20.5 million Medicare beneficiaries have vision problems, yet only 57 percent said they had received an eye examination during the previous year, according to the release. Medicare Part B covers cataract surgery and yearly glaucoma screenings for people who are at high risk, but does not cover routine exams, glasses or contact lenses. Screenings at annual visits would catch issues early and help seniors sight.

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“The Medicare Vision Act is designed to provide a needed expansion of essential eye health and vision care for Medicare beneficiaries, and the American Optometric Association proudly supports it,” said AOA President William T. Reynolds, O.D. “The AOA salutes the health policy leadership of Reps. Kim Schrier, M.D. (D-WA); Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ); Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), and Suzan DelBene (D-WA) and their efforts to keep doctor-patient decision making at the center of health care and especially in the Medicare program.”

“Eyeglasses and routine eye exams are essential components of health care for Arizona seniors, and should be covered under Medicare. Seniors have paid into the Medicare program their entire lives; they deserve the highest quality, comprehensive care as they age. I am proud to join my colleagues to introduce this commonsense legislation,” said Rep. O’Halleran.

Slotkin added: “Over one million Michiganders on Medicare are covered for operations like cataract surgery and glaucoma screenings, but not the most essential needs for vision health like annual eye exams, contact lenses or glasses. The out of pocket costs for these basics – usually hundreds of dollars every year – can break the bank for too many people. The Medicare Vision Act will expand coverage under Medicare Part B to make sure critical routine eye care is accessible and affordable.”

“The Medicare Vision Act is designed to provide a needed expansion of essential eye health and vision care for Medicare beneficiaries, and the AOA proudly supports it,” said William T. Reynolds, OD, immediate past president of the American Optometric Association. “The AOA salutes the health policy leadership of Reps. Schrier, O’Halleran, Slotkin and DelBene, and their efforts to keep doctor-patient decision-making at the center of health care and especially in the Medicare program.”

AOA noted on its website: “With a Senate version of the Medicare Vision Act of 2021 possibly forthcoming in the weeks ahead, key members of Congress are already discussing potential language, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who recently voiced his support for expanding Medicare to include vision coverage.”

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