Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40)
Hearing, vision, and dental services are essential to the well-being of older Americans. Sadly, our Medicare system has failed to recognize that truth. Since Medicare was implemented in 1965, it has excluded coverage for routine dental care, routine eye exams and eyeglasses, and hearing aids and related audiology services.
We cannot let these exclusions continue. That is why I have been leading the fight in Congress to pass the Seniors Have Eyes, Ears and Teeth Act, which would lift these deeply unfair Medicare coverage restrictions. When I introduced this legislation in 2017, it attracted the support of more than 100 cosponsors, and I look forward to re-introducing the bill in the new Congress this year.
We know hearing loss affects more than 40 percent of people over 60 years old, more than 60 percent of people over 70, and almost 80 percent of people over 80 -- yet just one in five Americans currently diagnosed with hearing issues has the use of a hearing aid to mitigate their hearing loss. Tragically, the high cost of these aids (which can range from $1,000 to $6,000) is out of reach for many Medicare beneficiaries, half of whom live on incomes of less than $26,200 per year.
For vision care, the story is the same. People over 70, who account for about 80 percent of the 2.8 million Americans with low vision, are confronting routine eye exam costs that can range from $50 to more than $300, and prescription glasses costs that average $196.
As for dental services, nearly 70 percent of older Americans have no dental insurance, and that lack of insurance has been identified as seniors’ major barrier to accessing dental care.
It is increasingly well-documented that untreated vision loss and hearing loss not only diminishes quality of life, but also increases the risk of costly health outcomes such as falls and resulting disability, depression, and dementia. Likewise, the lack of access to routine dental exams and cleanings can exacerbate serious health problems that increase with age.
By expanding Medicare to cover vision, dental, and hearing services, we can reduce the costly consequences of failing to provide these services. More importantly, giving our seniors the gifts of hearing, vision, and oral health will go a long way toward helping our seniors enjoy their golden years.
I look forward to continuing to fight for the Seniors Have Eyes, Ears and Teeth Act in the 116th Congress, so we can finally ensure Medicare provides America’s seniors with the dental, vision, and hearing care they need.
The opinions expressed in “Congressional Corner” reflect the views of the writer and are not necessarily those of TSCL.