PA Groups Back Expanding Medicare to 'Treat the Whole Person'
Friday, September 3, 2021
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. -- Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa, has introduced legislation to expand Medicare coverage to include dental, hearing and vision care.
Backers of the bill in the Commonwealth said adding the services could do a lot to keep older adults healthy.
Senate Bill 2618 would cover routine dental cleaning, eyeglasses, hearing exams and more. In many cases, older adults go without these services, particularly hearing aids, because of the cost.
Joanne Grossi, state president for AARP Pennsylvania, said it is time for Medicare to treat the whole person, head to toe.
"If you can't have a conversation with someone, you're obviously socially isolated; you can't hear the phone ring," Grossi observed. "It leads to increased isolation and depression, which ironically end up costing the health care system more money, and Medicare more money, because they're leading to these detrimental health outcomes."
Grossi spoke this week in Wilkes-Barre at a Special Committee on Aging hearing, which Sen. Casey chairs. Casey said he hopes the legislation is passed when the Senate is back in session as part of the budget reconciliation process. Some pushback is expected from lawmakers who will question the cost.
About 17% of older adults in the United States have lost all their teeth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kelly Ranieli, executive director of Volunteers in Medicine, which provides free medical, dental and behavioral health services to people who are uninsured or underinsured in Northeastern Pennsylvania, said some of their older patients need tooth extractions and dentures but often can't afford either.
"Many have extreme difficulty eating solid food, which, you know, many are malnourished," Ranieli explained. "To heal the entire well-being, medical, dental, and behavioral health care needs to be provided. I mean, everyone benefits from a healthy community."
Medicare provides coverage to 2.8 million Pennsylvanians 65 and older or with chronic disabilities.
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