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U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano Files Legislation to Help Vision Impaired Seniors Maintain Independence

September 15, 1999 -- U.S. Representative Michael E. Capuano (D-MA) filed the "Medicare Vision Rehabilitation Coverage Act of 1999" which would reimburse, under Medicare Part B, vision rehabilitation professionals for services provided. Today is also National Vision Rehabilitation Day, established to raise awareness of the services available to those suffering from visual impairment. 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. Statistics provided by the American Council of the Blind project that by 2005, 1 out of every 6 Massachusetts residents over the age of 60 will either suffer from blindness or from partial impairment.

Dr. Barbara Silverstone, Chair of the National Vision Rehabilitation Cooperative, (an organization supporting the legislation) joined Rep. Capuano at the announcement. Mr. Warren Tsuneishi of Bethesda, Maryland who benefited from this treatment but has been unable to afford continued coverage, also participated.

Vision rehabilitation services teach seniors who suffer from permanent vision impairment how to continue living independently with this loss. Examples of services covered include independent living skills and training in safe methods of travel.

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.

According to the National Vision Rehabilitation Cooperative, 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.

"Even when vision cannot be restored, vision rehabilitation can help people learn to live independently. It can reduce the need for assisted living and even help to decrease or postpone the need for nursing home placement," stated Dr. Barbara Silverstone, Chair of the National Vision Rehabilitation Cooperative.

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 is eligible for reimbursable therapeutic services. Why shouldn't a person who suffers from irreversible vision loss be afforded the same type of therapeutic services under Medicare?" stated Rep. Capuano.

Rep. John LaFalce (D-NY), an original co-sponsor of the bill stated: "I am a very enthusiastic supporter of the "Medicare Vision Rehabilitation Act". Loss of vision can be a devastating disability for seniors, who value independence foremost. Wonderful new therapies like vision rehabilitation not only save money, but more importantly give people back their quality of life."

Other House members co-sponsoring the legislation include: Rep. William Clay (D-MO); Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-MA); Eliot Engel (D-NY); Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA); Rep. Martin Frost (D-TX); Rep. Charles Gonzalez; Rep. Sue Kelly (R-NY); Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA); Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA); Rep. Joe Moakley (D-MA); Rep. John Olver (D-MA); Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ); Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA); Rep. John Tierney (D-MA); Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY); and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY).