Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Use of Low-Vision Devices among Medicare Recipients

Bottom Line: Devices to assist individuals with low vision (uncorrectable vision impairment) are not covered by Medicare and many private insurers, although there is evidence that these devices, such as telescopic lenses, magnifiers, large print or talking materials, can improve functioning and quality of life. Little is known about whether sociodemographic disparities exist in the use of low-vision services by Medicare beneficiaries. This study included nationally representative survey data from about 3,000 Medicare beneficiaries 65 years and older with self-reported vision impairment. The authors found that compared with white individuals, adults from minority racial/ethnic groups were less likely to report using low-vision devices. However, they found no difference in the use of vision rehabilitation (evaluation of activities of daily living and implementation of a plan to improve functioning) – a service which is covered by Medicare – between racial/ethnic groups. A limitation of the study was the inability of the researchers to determine actual need for low-vision devices. If the findings are confirmed, it may suggest that policy makers could consider coverage of low-vision devices under Medicare to address disparities.

Authors: Joshua R. Ehrlich, M.D., M.P.H., University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, and coauthors

To Learn More: The full study is available on the For The Media website.

(doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2018.3892)