American Foundation for the Blind Invites You to the 21st Century Agenda on Aging and Vision Loss National Teleseminar: Medicare Coverage of Low Vision Devices

the dome of the US Capitol building
Dome of the U.S. Capitol

On Wednesday, October 4, 2017, at 3:00pm Eastern Standard Time, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and the 21st Century Agenda on Aging and Vision Loss will host RESOLVED—Medicare Should Pay for Low Vision Devices: Views Through Different Lenses.

This 90-minute teleseminar will discuss the pros, cons, and range of concerns about permanent Medicare coverage for low vision devices. The teleseminar is sponsored by VFO™, “the world’s leading assistive technology provider for the visually impaired, and home of the Freedom Scientific®, Optelec, and Ai Squared brands.”

You are invited to join in this national dialogue and debate about these issues and to assess whether and how Medicare should pay for low vision devices and potentially other assistive technologies.

To join the call:

  • Dial: 1 (866) 939-3921
  • Enter code: 45490371

More About the National Teleseminar

The teleseminar will feature a panel of experts and advocates from across the spectrum of concerns about permanent Medicare coverage for low vision devices:

Hear what they have to say, assess for yourself whether you agree with their diverse perspectives, and engage with them interactively to make your own case and learn how you can contribute effectively in the shared goal of getting appropriate and affordable equipment and training into the hands of every person with vision loss who may need it.

You can read more about the teleseminar agenda and important background information at RESOLVED—Medicare Should Pay for Low Vision Devices: Views Through Different Lenses.

Legislation Related to this Issue: H.R.2050

The legislation, titled H.R.2050 – The Medicare Demonstration of Coverage of Low Vision Devices Act of 2017, has been reintroduced (on April 6, 2017) by Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and co-sponsored by Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Steve Cohen (D-TN). The bill directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services “to provide for a Medicare demonstration project to evaluate the fiscal impact of covering low vision devices as durable medical equipment under Part B of the Medicare program.”

Currently, Medicare does not cover the specific services and devices that people with vision loss need. Medicare does pay for services and devices to address many other conditions—but not the loss of vision. In other words, while Medicare might cover a cane or a walker for someone who needs one after a physical injury, the current Medicare rules do not allow payment for a low vision device to let someone with low vision continue to function as independently as possible.

The proposed legislation defines low vision devices as “a device, prescribed by a physician that magnifies, enhances, or otherwise augments or interprets visual images irrespective of the size, form, or technological features of such device and does not include ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses. The term ‘ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses’ means lenses that are intended to fully correct visual acuity or fully eliminate refractive error.”

The legislation requires that the five-year demonstration project be genuinely national in scope and is explicitly designed to yield reliable data and meaningful results.

Some Background on Medicare and Low Vision Devices

For decades, the vision loss community has been advocating for Medicare’s coverage of assistive technologies, particularly low vision devices. Currently, Medicare will not pay for any device that happens to use a lens, regardless of whether the device incorporates any other features.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency responsible for the management of Medicare, has ruled that devices containing a lens – such as low vision optical devices and electronic magnifiers – are excluded from coverage, just as are eyeglasses or contact lenses, except in very narrow circumstances, such as intraocular lenses for cataract surgery.

Should We Change the Medicare Ruling and Get Medicare to Pay for Low Vision Devices?

That question requires discussion, via the national teleseminar. While consumer advocates in the vision loss community (including AFB) are calling for Medicare to assess the financial impact of permanent Medicare coverage for low vision devices through H.R.2050 – The Medicare Demonstration of Coverage of Low Vision Devices Act of 2017, other dedicated professionals have reservations.

These advocates worry about the impact that CMS involvement in the low vision device market may have on device cost, corporate profit, and the out-of-pocket cost for consumers who purchase devices outside of the Medicare system.

Concerned physicians and other practitioners also worry that the expanded availability of low vision devices through Medicare has the potential to (a) place inappropriate, and possibly risky, devices in the hands of consumers and (b) tempt dishonest providers to push the most expensive equipment, whether a consumer needs it or not.

Because of these concerns, it is important to start a discussion and begin to develop the kind of field-wide consensus that will be critical to achieve policy objectives to address appropriate services and devices that will meet the unique needs of people who are living with vision loss.

More About Low Vision Devices

Low vision devices, such as optical devices and electronic and digital magnifiers, can help you make the most of your vision so that you can perform everyday tasks more easily and with less frustration. All low vision devices require training in order to use them efficiently and effectively.

Low Vision Optical Devices

a hand-held lighted magnifier
A hand-held lighted magnifier

Low vision optical devices include a variety of helpful visual aids, including stand and hand-held magnifiers, strong magnifying reading glasses, loupes, and small telescopes.

Because these devices can provide greatly increased magnification powers and prescription strengths, along with higher-quality optics (i.e., the way the lens bends or refracts light), they are different from regular glasses and magnifiers that you can buy in a local store or online.

Electronic Magnifying Systems

Electronic magnifying systems come in many different varieties and sizes, depending upon the task or activity you want, or need, to do. Some have a camera system that displays a magnified image on a monitor, which can be helpful for reading mail, books, and magazines, while others are hand-held, portable, and can be taken to the supermarket to read labels and coupons, or to restaurants for reading menus.

reading a magazine with a digital magnifier
Reading a magazine with
a portable digital magnifier

Both types of low vision devices are often recommended as part of a low vision examination. A low vision exam by a low vision specialist — an ophthalmologist or optometrist with credentials or specialization in low vision testing, diagnosis, and treatment — is the best way to decide what type of device or devices are best for you, your eye condition, and your everyday living needs. At your low vision evaluation, you will have the opportunity to try a variety of devices in a variety of settings and learn first-hand how they can work for you.

For More Information About the Teleseminar

For more information about the teleseminar and/or this important reintroduced legislation, contact the AFB Public Policy Center: Director and Senior Advisor, Strategic Initiatives Mark Richert, Esq. at or Programs and Policy Coordinator Sarah Malaier, M.A. at

Additional Information About Low Vision