Starting Jan. 2, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices that generate speech for people with limited vocal ability will be considered durable medical equipment eligible for coverage by Medicare.
Under previous guidelines, speech generators and synthesizers and their accessories have been considered convenience items. A speech system can cost up to several thousand dollars.
Currently, local Medicare providers are operating under an interim measure approved this spring by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through its Health Care Financing Administration, which allows providers to decide whether to cover speech generators and synthesizers on a case-by-case basis.
"The scope of this policy change is enormous. This is the biggest change in regards to access to medical treatment in a decade," says attorney Lewis Golinker, director of the Assistive Technology Law Center in Ithaca, N.Y., of the planned change. "People with ALS are among the primary beneficiaries. This is giving them the opportunity to communicate with their families."
Drafted this fall, the new policy extending Medicare coverage to AAC devices is expected to be finalized by June. In the meantime, cases submitted on or after Jan. 2 will be individually reviewed, with the expectation that they'll be approved.
Under the new rules, Medicare will cover at least five classifications of AAC tools and accessories, including digitized and synthesized speech generators; speech-generating software programs; and mounts to attach the equipment to wheelchairs.
Details of the new policy still being worked out include the types and numbers of AAC items to be covered and the amount of reimbursement that will be provided by Medicare. Questions about coverage of specific items should be directed to local or regional Medicare providers.
Comments may be sent to:
Lewis Golinker, Director
Assistive Technology Law Center
202 E. State St., Suite 507
Ithaca, NY 14850