An advocacy group for the blind and visually impaired isapplauding bipartisan legislation in the House to investigate thefederal government’s “systemic failure” to provide materials inaccessible formats for recipients of Medicare and Medicaid.

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U.S. Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA)in late July introduced H.R. 3457, which would require the ComptrollerGeneral of the United States to conduct an evaluation on the extentto which the Medicare and Medicaid programs provide reasonableaccommodations to individuals who are blind or visuallyimpaired.

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“This legislation will make it possible for people who are blindto independently read and understand important health-relatedinformation — an issue that has been on our radar for many yearsnow,” says Kim Charlson, president of American Council of the Blind.

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“With today’s technology, the continuing lack of vital healthdocuments in an accessible format for people who are blind andvisually impaired is inexcusable, and puts up a barrier to qualityhealth care for a growing percentage of Americans.”

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The bill calls for a GAO study to be submitted to Congress onthe extent to which reasonable accommodations are provided toindividuals who are blind or visually impaired within the twoentitlement programs.

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The report must also provide, among other things, the number ofcomplaints submitted to the Centers for Medicare & MedicaidServices or state Medicaid agencies claiming materials are notbeing provided in an accessible format and whether such a failureto provide such materials in such a format resulted in aninterruption in coverage or denial in care or the failure to appealsuch a denial before the specified deadline.

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While the CMS is required under Section 504 of theRehabilitation Act of 1973 to provide materials in an accessibleformat for recipients who are blind and visually impaired, ACBexecutive director Eric Bridges says that it has been difficult totrack the number of blind and visually impaired individuals coveredunder CMS programs, making it difficult to track CMS’ effectivenessin meeting those requirements.

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“There's a lot of missing data that makes it hard for us to knowjust how widespread the problem is,” Bridges says. “But what we doknow is that our office continually receives complaints on CMS’sfailure to provide accessible materials, which is resulting inserious disruptions for individuals’ health care coverage due to alack of equal access to vital print materials.”

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H.R. 3457 was referred to the House Committee on Energy andCommerce, and in addition to the Committee on Ways and Means.

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Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in Running Springs, Calif. She has more than three decades of journalism experience, with particular expertise in employee benefits and other human resource topics.