What Medicare doesn’t cover: dental, hearing and vision. What else? Inexpensive assistance for living at home.

We live in a 140 year-old workingmen’s cottage in Chicago.

It doesn’t have a toilet on the first floor and we’re spending some of the money we didn’t spend on travel this year to fix up the basement and put in a toilet and shower down there.

We will be sure to include a grip bar in the new shower.

It is not a necessity now, but as we age the odds are likely it will be.

Many older folks need simple, cheap assistance to live at home but can’t afford the basic aids.

I’ve written extensively how Medicare doesn’t cover the obvious medical care that growing old requires: dental, hearing and vision.

I’m glad to see that Bernie tweets about this failure in Medicare.

Yet, that’s not the worst of it when it comes to Medicare coverage, or lack of it.

Some adaptations that help people remain at home, like outdoor ramps and stair glides, carry high price tags; basic bathroom devices, widely available in pharmacies and online, generally don’t. But cost can still present an obstacle.

“Medicare covers ‘durable medical equipment’ — hospital beds, wheelchairs, walkers,” said Tricia Neuman, who leads the Kaiser Family Foundation’s program on Medicare. “It doesn’t cover hand rails or grab bars, things used around the house.”

With private Medicare Advantage plans and Medigap plans, the situation may not be any better.

Medicare Advantage plans have more flexibility, but a Kaiser study found that of Advantage enrollees, only six percent were in plans that covered bathroom safety equipment.

A recently announced federal program from the Department of Housing and Urban Development will provide $30 million for a home modification program for low-income homeowners aged 62 and older, a helpful but small step.

Moreover, price isn’t the only barrier to assistive equipment. “You need whole systems to deliver it,” Dr. Lam said. Sometimes, faced with the challenges of selecting the appropriate devices, ordering and installing them, “even for people who want them, it just doesn’t happen.”

A national health care for all is essential. But making Medicare work better now for those it was designed for has to be a part of that fight.

One thought on “What Medicare doesn’t cover: dental, hearing and vision. What else? Inexpensive assistance for living at home.

  1. A year ago, after routine surgery, my husband’s arthritis landed him a wheelchair, which he still needs. Luckily, the VA gave us a chair. After covid in October, he couldn’t sit on the steps one-by-one and get up to the bathroom. We’re planning on a stairlift and expanding a bathroom.
    Honestly, the hardest thing has been the suddenness of the situation, the denial we had about everything, and the lack of awareness of knowing what we needed.
    Anyway, I joined a caregiver support group, which helps. Also, in my area there are “loan closets” where you can borrow, at low or no cost, equipment like walkers, showers seats, even wheelchairs or scooters, depending on what they have at the time. Some of the individual equipment is not too expensive to purchase, but after awhile, all of it adds up. Also, my husband loves to grocery shop. Those scooters at the grocery store are a real lifesaver.
    Good luck to us all.

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