Among Medicare beneficiaries, dental, vision, and hearing services could be characterized as high need, high cost, and low use. While Medicare does not cover most of these services, coverage has increased recently as a result of changes in state Medicaid programs and increased enrollment in Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, many of which offer these services as supplemental benefits. Using data from the 2016 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey, this analysis shows that MA plans are filling an important gap in dental, vision, and hearing coverage, particularly among low-and middle-income beneficiaries. In 2016 only 21 percent of beneficiaries in traditional Medicare had purchased a standalone dental plan, whereas 62 percent of MA enrollees were in plans with a dental benefit. Among Medicare beneficiaries with coverage overall, out-of-pocket expenses still made up 70 percent of dental spending, 62 percent of vision spending, and 79 percent of hearing spending. While Medicare beneficiaries are enrolling in private coverage options, they are not getting adequate financial protection. This article examines these findings in the context of recent proposals in Congress to expand Medicare coverage of dental, vision, and hearing services.
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