Bill seeks to make speech generating devices purchased items

‘There’s a permanent need for that equipment’
Friday, March 6, 2015

WASHINGTON – Industry stakeholders applaud the recent introduction of a bill that would protect access to speech generating devices for Medicare beneficiaries living with disabilities like ALS and cerebral palsy.

Introduced by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., and Steve Scalise, R-La., The Steve Gleason Act of 2015, H.R. 628, would remove SGDs from the DME capped rental payment category and clarify statutory language to ensure coverage of eye-tracking technology for beneficiaries who need it to operate their devices.

“Those items are used by people with permanent disabilities,” said Don Clayback, executive director of NCART. “There’s a permanent need for that equipment, so it really should be paid for as a purchase.” 

SGDs were reclassified as a capped rental item in April 2014.

“DME is only covered for patients when it is used in the home,” explained Bob Jasak, a consultant with Hart Health Strategy, a consulting and lobbying firm based in Washington, D.C. “Because SGDs are classified as a rental and Medicare owns the device, if the patient’s condition progresses and they need to be admitted to a hospital or hospice or nursing facility, Medicare will stop paying.”

Currently, SGDs are only approved for face-to-face conversations. If reclassified as a routinely purchased item, customers would be able to “unlock” or use their devices for non-speech functions like email, texting and Internet access—things Medicare doesn’t consider as a means to communicate, says Tara Rudnicki, president of Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Tobii Dynavox, which manufactures the devices. 

“The patient would own it and they would have the right to do what they want with it,” she said.

Stakeholders believe the bill is budget neutral and, therefore, has a good chance of getting passed. 

“It’s just realigning the regulation to better serve Medicare patients,” Jasak said. “It’s hard to see why anyone would vote against it.”