UPDATE – Expansion of Sight and Hearing Medicare Benefits Bill

UPDATE – Expansion of Sight and Hearing Medicare Benefits Bill

Currently there are huge gaps in the vision and hearing benefits that Medicare covers.  We’ve mentioned before that Medicare often does not cover the cost of hearing aids. Though Medicare Advantage Plans (Part C) may cover the cost, there are usually high co-pays and deductibles.

A couple of months ago we wrote that Congress is introducing the Medical Dental, Vision and Hearing Benefit Act to expand Medicare coverage. In that post we talked about the pros and cons of expanding Medicare to cover vision and hearing benefits.

Today we want to give you an update on Medicare Bill 4311, which was introduced in July 2021. The bill:

“…provides for Medicare coverage of dental, vision, and hearing care. Coverage includes (1) routine dental cleanings and exams, basic and major dental services, emergency dental care, and dentures; (2) routine eye exams, eyeglasses, and contact lenses; and (3) routine hearing exams, hearing aids, and exams for hearing aids. With respect to such care, the bill establishes special payment rules, limitations, and coinsurance requirements.”1

The expanded vision benefits would begin in 2022, hearing benefits in 2023 and dental coverage in 2028. This bill, if passed, would be the first major expansion to Medicare since 2003. AARP states that the proposal is “a monumental opportunity” for Congress “to invest in the health and financial security of all Americans, which will benefit generations to come.”2

The Medicare expansion is part of the larger goal of expanding health care coverage to more Americans. There are obstacles to the bill passing, both political and financial. According to a 2019 Congressional Budget Office estimate in 2019, adding expanded vision, hearing and dental benefits to Medicare would cost about $358 billion over 10 years.4

At this time, we don’t have any news on whether the Medicare expanded benefits bill will pass either in its current form, or with changes. We will be keeping an eye on it to keep you updated.

But we do know that something needs to be done, as there are simply too many people who don’t have proper coverage. And with baby boomers aging, the older population is growing, with an estimated 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day. Additionally, we are living longer, so clearly the problem of proper coverage is not going to go away.

  • 75% of those who need a hearing aid don’t have one
  • 47% of Medicare beneficiaries don’t have dental coverage (oral health is linked to heart disease and diabetes)2
  • Roughly 92% of Medicare recipients wear eyeglasses, but Medicare Part A and B don’t pay for eyeglasses other than in specific circumstances.3

Our mission is to help those who qualify restore the gifts of sight and hearing in 12 California counties. We may be able to help when Medicare can’t.

We know that there are millions of other people who are out of our service area, or who can’t qualify for our help. We hope that the Medicare expansion benefits do pass so that more Americans will receive the health benefits and care they need and deserve, and we’ll be watching the progress of the bill to keep you informed.

References

  1. https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/4311
  2. https://www.miamiherald.com/living/health-fitness/article254422393.html
  3. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaophthalmology/article-abstract/2687209
  4. https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/14/politics/medicare-dental-vision-benefits-spending-bill-democrats/index.html
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