Rep. Michael Capuano Files Legislation to Help Seniors Maintain Their Independence

May 1, 2003 -- Today Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) and Rep. Mark Foley (R-FLA) reintroduced the "Medicare Vision Rehabilitation Services Act" which reimburses vision rehabilitation professionals for their services, including services provided in the home. Vision rehabilitation services, which are not currently covered under Medicare, help older people who are suffering from a loss of vision. Currently 6.6 million Americans over the age of 65 report some level of vision impairment.

"My own mother, who suffers from vision impairment, benefited tremendously from the rehabilitation services provided by the Greater Boston Aid to the Blind. The training and therapy she received help her to avoid the injuries and loss of independence that often accompany vision impairment. Unfortunately, Medicare does not currently cover programs like this and not all seniors can afford the services on their own," Rep. Capuano stated.

Vision rehabilitation services teach seniors who suffer from permanent vision impairment how to continue living independently with this loss. Medicare beneficiaries who are blind or whose vision difficulties cannot be addressed by surgery, medication or corrective lenses could be eligible for services provided by certified vision rehabilitation professionals under the legislation. Vision rehabilitation professionals teach the skills needed to continue living safely and independently. Examples of services covered include independent living skills and training in safe methods of travel.

Age-related visual impairment is second only to arthritis/rheumatism as a cause of disability. However, due to a lack of awareness about the services available as well as a lack of funding, only 2% of the visually impaired have benefited from vision rehabilitation services. Visual impairment is one of four major conditions contributing to a senior's loss of independence. The nonprofit Alliance for Aging Research has determined based on data from the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey that a loss of independence by older adults costs the United States an additional $26 billion a year.

"The type of vision rehabilitation covered under this legislation could save the Medicare program millions of dollars in costs associated with injuries such as broken bones which are often caused by vision impairment. A person suffering from an injury such as a hip fracture would be eligible for reimbursable therapeutic services. Why shouldn't a person who suffers from vision loss be afforded the same services under Medicare?" stated Rep. Capuano.

This legislation is supported by virtually every mainstream national organization for the blind and visually impaired, as well as national associations representing the ophthalmologists, optometrists and vision rehabilitation service providers.

The legislation, which has bipartisan support, was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.


Contact: Alison M. Mills (617) 621-6208