Low-vision devices are an essential tool for the nearly 20 million Americans living with visual impairments.  These devices can help reduce the impact of visual impairments on a person’s independence and ability to participate in daily activities.  Occupational Therapy practitioners work with clients, as a part of a team of vision rehabilitation experts, to help manage the physical, psychological, cognitive, and social dimensions of visual deficits. 

With that in mind, our federal affairs team has taken an interest in a bill introduced late last year by Reps. Bilirakis (R-FL) and Maloney (D-NY) that aims understand the fiscal impact of coverage of low-vision devices on Medicare by conducting a demonstration project.  More specifically, H.R. 3749, the Medicare Demonstration of Coverage for Low Vision Devices Act, is a five-year demonstration project that would put low vision devices in the hands of Medicare beneficiaries who, after a clinical evaluation by an ophthalmologist or optometrist, can benefit from a low vision device and for whom such devices are medically necessary. 

The bill directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct a project that is genuinely national in scope with data gathering from proper professionals representing many fields, urban, rural, etc…  Ultimately, HHS will use the data to evaluate the costs and benefits of the coverage on the Medicare program.

Though participation in this project is limited to ophthalmologists and optometrists, low vision rehabilitation and low-vision OT practitioners remain an important part of low-vision rehabilitation teams by ensuring proper training and usage of the devices.  Deann Bayerl, MS, OTR/L, SCLV commented “OTs working in LVR need to position themselves in rehabilitation teams with optometrists & ophthalmologists that may seek participation in this project. Without essential therapeutic training and assistance to make such devices a part of their everyday life, recipients of such devices will be at a loss to utilize them to their full potential. Therapeutic training can help provide the proficiency needed to realize increased participation and independence in BADLs and (especially) IADLs.”

Mary Warren PhD, OTR/L, SCLV, FAOTA, and Co-Director of UAB Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation noted “coverage of these devices overcomes a very significant barrier that we face in achieving optimal outcomes for our clients… the push for coverage of these devices stems from research showing that low vision rehabilitation was more effective when devices were provided.”

Medicare extended coverage of low vision rehabilitation services provided by occupational therapy practitioners to all beneficiaries in 2002.  Broader support and coverage of low-vision devices would have a positive impact on patients, and give OT practitioners increased chances of demonstrating their expertise with adaptive devices and assistive technology in order to help patients with low-vision impairment maximize their quality of life and level of function.