By KEVIN DERBY
Gus Bilirakis and Carolyn Maloney
This week, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., joined U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, to propose expanding the number of low-vision devices covered by Medicare.
Maloney introduced the “Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act” on Tuesday and she and Bilirakis showcased the proposal on Wednesday. The bill would have the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) create a national demonstration project which evaluates the “economic impact of allowing reimbursement for low vision devices under the Social Security Act, which are currently excluded from Medicare coverage.”
Bilirakis weighed in on why he was backing the bill.
“As a visually-impaired American, I have first-hand knowledge of the difficulties that accompany this condition,” Bilirakis said. “Simple tasks can be a significant challenge, and low-vision assistive devices are often required for essential life function. Sadly, many of these products are out of reach for seniors who live on a fixed income, and the devices’ exclusion from Medicare necessitates a difficult choice between extreme financial hardship or disengagement from these vital activities.
“I view this legislation as a preventative measure that will help seniors stay healthy, active, and self-sufficient for a longer period of time,” he added. “This is not only better in terms of quality of life for our seniors, but also will result in reduced overall financial cost to the Medicare system. I am hopeful that the demonstration project authorized by this good, bipartisan legislation will help validate this approach.”
“Medicare coverage of low vision devices would be life changing for seniors with vision impairments. It would give them the ability to partake in everyday activities, whether it be reading a book, watching television or safely crossing the street,” said Maloney. “With the rising costs of healthcare, we must ensure that Medicare beneficiaries have proper access to any and all necessary medical devices that are currently not covered by Medicare.”
The American Council of the Blind (ACB) threw its support behind the proposal with Eric Bridges, the group’s executive director, praising the legislation.
“The American Council of the Blind commends Representatives Maloney and Bilirakis for introducing this legislation that will improve access to low vision devices for all Americans living with vision loss. Making low vision devices more affordable is imperative to increasing the independence and quality of life for people who are blind and visually impaired, and ACB and our members urge Congress to support this legislation,” said Bridges.
Other supporters of the bill include U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo. The bill was sent to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce and the Ways and Means Committees. So far, there is no counterpart over in the U.S. Senate.