Lawmakers introduce bill to add dental, vision services to Medicare

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Calls from senior advocates to add dental coverage to the Medicare program are answered under a House bill proposed on Thursday.

The “Seniors Have Eyes, Ears and Teeth Act” (H.R. 508) would expand Medicare to give beneficiaries coverage for hearing services, dental care, vision exams and devices such as hearing aids and glasses. The bill, authored by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and co-sponsored by 123 other representatives, also would help reduce healthcare costs and incidents related to falls, chronic conditions, depression and social isolation, its supporters said.

“Few bills are ever introduced with the overwhelming support that we have seen for the Seniors Have Eyes, Ears and Teeth Act, and the reason is clear,” Roybal-Allard said in a press release. “If we pass this bill, we can lift Medicare's exclusion of these vital services, and help our seniors enjoy their golden years in good health and with peace of mind.”

In its 50-year history Medicare has excluded coverage for services related to hearing, dental and vision-related services “despite the large number of older Americans who need such items and services,” the bill's sponsors said.

Hearing loss is estimated to affect 40% of people over 60 years old, a statistic that reaches up to 80% in the 80-and-over category. Older adults account for roughly 80% of all Americans with low vision.

Seniors without dental insurance — an estimated 70% of older adults — spent on average $737 on out-of-pocket dental services in 2012, according to a recent report from Kaiser Health News.