Steve Gleason Act Passes Congress

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on July 24, 2015 # News, Advocacy and Policy

On July 15, Congress passed The Steve Gleason Act.This bill reverses several recent policy changes in Medicare that limited access to communication devices. It is a big victory for people with disabilities and helps advance disability advocacy in Medicare.

The story of the Steve Gleason Act began in April of 2014, when Medicare changed its policy on coverage of “Speech Generating Devices” (SGDs) – Medicare’s term for the technology that allows people with disabilities to communicate even if they cannot speak. The new policy deemed SGDs as items for “rental,” rather than purchase. This created additional burdens in accessing devices and meant that if an individual was admitted to a hospital or nursing facility, he or she could lose the device because of differences in how Medicare pays for services in the home and in the hospital. Medicare was also routinely denying claims for “eye-tracking” technology, essential communication technology for individuals like Gleason who communicate through technology that tracks their eye movements on the screen, and limiting coverage for new technologies that allow mobile devices like iPads to work as SGDs.

Steve Gleason is a former professional football player diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2011. When Steve Gleason learned about the policy, he called it a “human rights violation” and worked with disability and Medicare access advocates to get it changed. Team Gleason, the Center for Medicare Advocacy, the ALS Association, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and many other disability and communication advocates worked with Congress and the federal government to change the policy.

The Act named for Gleason ensures that Medicare will cover SGDs and allow people to keep them for as long as they need them, regardless of the care setting they find themselves in, and provides coverage for needed accessories. The Act also ensures coverage for eye-tracking technology. Advocates have been working with Medicare to reverse the policy on technologies like iPads and other multi-use devices.

Our work is not done. This important victory will build momentum, and the Foundation and other advocates continue to advocate for full access to equipment in Medicare, including durable medical equipment, complex rehabilitation technology, and other communications and mobility technologies.