Seniors Have Eyes, Ears, and Teeth Act

Floor Speech

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Ms. ROYBAL-ALLARD. Madam Speaker, as we begin this new Congress, I am proud to introduce the Seniors Have Eyes, Ears, and Teeth Act, with 78 of my colleagues. My bill would reverse a longstanding Medicare prohibition on critical health services for our seniors.

Since its implementation in 1965, Medicare has excluded coverage for hearing aids and related audiology services, routine dental care, and routine eye exams and eyeglasses, despite the large number of older Americans who critically need these items and services.

The Commonwealth Fund reports that, among all Medicare beneficiaries who needed a hearing aid, only 75 percent did not have one. Of those who had trouble eating because of problems with their teeth, 70 percent had not seen a dentist in the past year. And of those who had trouble seeing, 43 percent had not had an eye exam in the past year. The reason for many seniors was affordability.

According to the latest statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than half of Medicare beneficiaries live on incomes below $26,200 per year. For them to pay out of pocket creates extreme hardship.

Sadly, reliable data shows that neglect of all health, and even the lack of routine dental exams and cleanings, can deteriorate overall physical health and exacerbate serious and complicated health problems that increase with age.

It is also increasingly well documented that untreated vision and hearing loss diminishes quality of life and increases the risk of costly health outcomes, such as falls and resulting disability, depression, and dementia.

My bill would remove the restrictions currently prohibiting Medicare coverage of these basic healthcare necessities such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, and dental care. Expanding Medicare coverage for these services is a cost-effective intervention that will prevent accidents, falls, cognitive impairments, and increases in chronic conditions and oral cancer.

Madam Speaker, if we do not address these gaps in health coverage now, the overall health of our aging population will continue to suffer and the need for costly and avoidable services will increase. But most importantly, giving our older adults the gift of hearing, vision, and oral health would go a long way toward helping our seniors enjoy their golden years free from depression and social isolation.

It is time to recognize that total healthcare for our seniors must include adequate access to vision, hearing, and dental services. I urge my colleagues to cosponsor the Seniors Have Eyes, Ears, and Teeth Act, and ensure a healthier future for all our seniors.

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