You've been diligently paying into Medicare your whole working life, but now that you're eligible to use the benefits, do you know exactly what's covered? If you're worried about vision issues as you age, you may be wondering if Medicare will help pay for treatment of conditions like glaucoma.
As with many Medicare benefits, there are approved amounts, copays, deductibles, and coverage limits to keep in mind. The good news is, if caught early with a comprehensive eye exam, glaucoma is often manageable, and Medicare can help you access the treatment you need to avoid further complications. Keep reading this guide to learn exactly what Medicare covers for glaucoma testing and treatment so you know what costs you may face out of pocket.
What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve, which sends signals from your eye to your brain. The most common form is open-angle glaucoma, where fluid builds up in the front part of your eye. This extra fluid increases pressure in your eye, called intraocular pressure or IOP, damaging the optic nerve.
What Causes Glaucoma?
The exact cause of glaucoma isn't fully understood. Several factors are involved, including genetics, age, ethnicity, and nearsightedness. As you get older, your risk increases. Signs and Symptoms
Often, there are no symptoms in the early stages of glaucoma. As it progresses, you may notice:
- Blurry or hazy vision
- Seeing rainbow-colored circles around lights
- Nausea or vomiting
- Eye pain, especially behind your eye
By the time symptoms appear, glaucoma has usually caused permanent damage. That's why regular eye exams that check for glaucoma are so important, especially if you're over 60 or at high risk.
Who is at Higher Risk of Glaucoma
Medicare may have some additional benefits for those who are considered at high risk of glaucoma, so it's important to know if you fall under that category. If you're over 60, have a family history of glaucoma, or are of African or Hispanic descent, you're supposedly at higher risk of developing this eye disease. But that doesn't necessarily mean your chances are high.
Does Medicare Cover Glaucoma Screening and Eye Exams?
If you've been diagnosed with glaucoma or are considered at high risk of developing it, the good news is Medicare Part B covers glaucoma screening and eye exams to help detect and monitor the disease.
With Part B, Medicare covers glaucoma screenings which typically include:
- Tonometry: A test to measure pressure in the eye. High eye pressure is considered a major risk factor for glaucoma.
- Visual field testing: Checks for loss of peripheral or side vision which can be an early sign of glaucoma.
- Dilated eye exam: An eye doctor dilates your pupils to get a better view inside your eye. This allows the doctor to check the optic nerve for damage.
If glaucoma is detected, Medicare also covers diagnostic tests to monitor the disease and create an appropriate and customized treatment.
How Often Does Medicare Cover Eye Exams for Glaucoma?
How often Medicare pays for these vision services depends on your specific situation and risk factors. Normally, Medicare Part B covers glaucoma screenings once every 12 months if you're considered high risk.
How is Glaucoma Treated
Glaucoma treatment typically starts with prescription eye drops called glaucoma medications. The most common types are:
- Beta blockers: These lower pressure by reducing fluid production in the eye. Common side effects include low blood pressure, fatigue, and insomnia.
- Alpha agonists: These also lower pressure by reducing fluid production. Possible side effects include dry mouth, dizziness, and fatigue.
- Rho kinase inhibitors: A newer class of drops that increase fluid outflow from the eye. Side effects may include redness, irritation, and blurred vision.
If drops alone do not work, your ophthalmologist may suggest laser treatment or microsurgery. Both procedures create tiny openings to help fluid drain and lower inner eye pressure.
- Laser peripheral iridotomy: This uses targeted light beams to create small holes in the iris, the colored part of your eye. This can help when a misshapen iris blocks fluid flow.
- Trabeculectomy: The most common glaucoma surgery, creates a new channel for fluid to leave the eye. A tiny flap is made in the sclera, the white part of the eye, under which a reservoir is formed to collect fluid.
In severe or end-stage glaucoma, more invasive surgeries may be recommended to help prevent further damage. Glaucoma drainage devices, like shunts or valves, provide an artificial channel for fluid to exit the eye. Cyclophotocoagulation also uses targeted light beams to decrease fluid production in the eye.
You’ll need to commit to ongoing monitoring and treatment to control glaucoma and minimize damage. Visit your ophthalmologist regularly for eye pressure checks, visual field testing, and eye nerve assessments. Make sure to be diligent about using your prescription eye drops as directed and watching for possible side effects.
Does Medicare Cover Glaucoma Treatment?
Does Medicare cover treatment for glaucoma? The short answer is yes, but the details can be confusing. Medicare Part B covers medically necessary eye exams to diagnose and treat glaucoma, as well as any reasonable and necessary treatments like eye drops, laser therapy, or glaucoma surgery recommended by your doctor.
To get your glaucoma eye exam covered, go to a doctor or eye care provider that accepts Medicare and charges Medicare-approved rates. This could be an ophthalmologist, optometrist, or other qualified eye doctor. They will perform an eye health exam to check for signs of glaucoma or other eye conditions, and determine if any glaucoma treatment or monitoring is needed based on your risk factors and test results.
You've also got other options for where you can get glaucoma testing and treatment. Likely, there's available treatment at hospital outpatient settings, ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), and even some clinics. Medicare will cover the Medicare-approved amount for services from providers and facilities that accept the health plan.
Can a Medicare Advantage Plan Offer Additional Coverage?
Medicare Advantage plans, also known as Medicare Part C, are offered by private companies approved by Medicare. Many of these plans provide coverage for vision care and eye exams beyond what Original Medicare offers. This can be good news if you have glaucoma or are at risk of developing it.
The specifics of the vision benefits will vary between Advantage plans. Some may offer basic vision care while others provide more comprehensive coverage. When comparing plans, look for those that cover:
- Routine eye exams, especially for those with glaucoma or diabetes
- Glaucoma tests to monitor your condition
- Treatment like prescription eye drops to manage glaucoma
- Glasses or contact lenses (if needed due to glaucoma).
Many Advantage plans require you to see only in-network eye doctors and providers for the plan’s vision benefits to take effect. So check that your eye doctor accepts the plan before enrolling. You may also have copays for exams, tests and eyewear that will depend on your plan.
While Original Medicare may cover some glaucoma treatment and testing, especially if done in a hospital outpatient setting, an Advantage plan can provide more comprehensive routine vision services. If you have glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy, or are concerned about developing vision issues as you age, a Medicare Advantage plan may give you valuable additional coverage and peace of mind. Compare plans in your area to find one that suits both your general health needs as well as vision care.
Which Medicare Plans Offer The Best Glaucoma Coverage?
Need a Medicare plan with the best glaucoma coverage available? While Original Medicare coverage offers a lot of services and supplies for preventing, diagnosing, and managing glaucoma, if you're at risk of diabetes or are already diagnosed with it, you may be better suited by a Medicare Advantage plan that provides more comprehensive coverage. So let's go find your dream plan!
EASY Insurance is a team of expert agents that are dedicated to helping you find the Medicare plan that best suits all of your needs. Whether you need a private insurance plan or a government plan, we're happy to take the time to discuss.
We're here for you and can't wait to help you live an EASY life!
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