CMS expands Medicare coverage of speech-generating devices

In response to public comments and new med tech, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that it is expanding Medicare coverage of speech-generating devices to include devices that generate written messages over email and text. Devices that enable Medicare recipients to electronically interface with a telephone to deliver speech via phone messages are also covered.

Speech-generating devices are considered durable medical equipment, a category that includes things like wheelchairs, crutches and hospital equipment.

The previous National Coverage Decision for speech-generating devices was initiated in 2001, and applied to devices (mostly software) that are not capable of performing functions other than generating speech, CMS says.

"Under the new NCD, devices that generate speech will still be considered DME even though they can perform other functions as long as they are used solely by the patient with the severe speech impairment and are used primarily for the generation of speech. In addition, the capability of the device to generate other forms of speech such as phone, email, and text messages would be covered under the DME benefit," CMS said in an email blast.

The agency stressed that it believes written messages should count as speech, and believes the benefits of communicating with remote caregivers merit coverage.

General-use tablets and computers will not be covered under the new policy.

CMS says it received more than 2,500 public comments during public comment periods, which were supportive of a more inclusive stance. The comments are described in the final decision memorandum.

- read the release
- here's the proposed and final decision memos