Stephanie Choi, AB; Brian C. Stagg, MD; Joshua R. Ehrlich, MD, MPH

Disparities in Low-Vision Device Use Among Older US Medicare Recipients

publication date
December 2018
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Importance:  Low-vision assistive devices are not covered by Medicare and many private insurers, although there is evidence that they can improve functioning and quality of life. Little is known about whether sociodemographic disparities exist in the use of low-vision services by Medicare beneficiaries.

Objective: To determine if sociodemographic disparities exist in the use of low-vision services by Medicare beneficiaries.

Design, Setting, and Participants: Cross-sectional population-based survey. The National Health Interview Survey is an annually administered nationally representative US survey. Data used in this study were from the 2002, 2008, and 2016 National Health Interview Survey vision supplement. Participants who were Medicare beneficiaries 65 years and older with self-reported vision impairment were included.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Multivariable logistic regression was performed to evaluate if sociodemographic or economic factors were associated with self-reported use of low-vision devices or low-vision rehabilitation among Medicare beneficiaries 65 years and older who self-reported vision impairment.


Results: There were 3058 participants included in the study. The survey weighted proportion of participants who were men was 37.9% (95% CI, 35.8%-40.0%), while 79.1% (95% CI, 77.2%-80.9%) were non-Hispanic white, 10.2% (95% CI, 9.0%-11.5%) were non-Hispanic black, 6.7% (95% CI, 5.6%-8.1%) were Hispanic, and 4.0% (95% CI, 3.2%-5.0%) identified with another race/ethnicity. The weighted proportion who reported using low-vison devices and low-vision rehabilitation were 26.1% (95% CI, 24.2%-28.1%) and 3.5% (95% CI, 2.8%-4.3%), respectively. In a model adjusted for ocular diagnoses, Hispanic individuals (odds ratio, 0.61; 95% CI, 0.39-0.97) and individuals from other races/ethnicities (odds ratio, 0.39; 95% CI, 0.19-0.80), but not black individuals, were significantly less likely to report using low-vision devices than white individuals. In the model that was not adjusted for ocular diagnoses, black individuals (odds ratio, 0.73; 95% CI, 0.54-0.99) were also significantly less likely to report using low-vision devices. There were no significant racial/ethnic disparities for reported use of low-vision rehabilitation.

Conclusions and Relevance: Additional research is needed to clarify the association between sociodemographics and use of low-vision services in the Medicare population. However, policy makers could consider expanding Medicare coverage to include low-vision devices in an effort to address significant disparities in the use of this evidence-based intervention.

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