Senators to Introduce Assistive Technology Bills for Aging in Place

U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) plan to introduce new legislation to make assistive technology more accessible to seniors and people with disabilities. The goal is to make it easier for people to age in place.

“Survey after survey indicates that seniors envision themselves living independently at home in their own community for as long as possible and living their life to the fullest,” Collins said. “Technology can help make that possible.”

Collins and Casey — both of whom are members of the Senate Aging Committee — announced their plans during a Wednesday hearing covering how technology can help maintain health and quality of life.

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The pair plans to introduce the 21st Century Technology Act when the Senate returns from its upcoming recess, they said. Additionally, Casey also announced his plans to introduce an act called Access to Freedom of Speech for All.

Senate recess begins May 27. Lawmakers will be back in session June 3.

“These bills are designed to ensure assistive technology and alternative communication devices are available to those who need it so they can be full participants in every aspect of their lives,” Casey, the ranking member on the Aging Committee, said.

The 21st Century Technology Act aims to update the current Assistive Technology Act, which was passed in 2004 and requires states to provide aid to ensure those with disabilities have access to the technology they need.

“[It’s] a bill that can quite literally bring assistive technology into the 21st century,” Casey said. “This legislation will update the Assistive Technology Act to bring more resources to state-assisted technology programs that would expand access for older adults and those with disabilities.”

Meanwhile, the Access to Freedom of Speech for All act aims to increase access to information about alternative communication devices for people with speech and written language disabilities.

While Casey explained the acts, Collins  — chairman of the Senate Aging Committee — highlighted some of the technologies she believes could help more seniors age in place.

One example includes a device that reads voice labels from special stickers, designed to help people with vision problems identify different objects in their homes. Another example: spoons for people with mobility issues that bend to users’ mouths.

“These devices are poised to change the future of aging,” Collins said.

Assistive technology that helps older adults age in place has been a focus for several major U.S. companies lately, including Apple, Amazon and — most recently — Comcast. On Tuesday, details emerged about the telecommunication company’s plans to develop an in-home health monitoring device capable of detecting falls, making emergency calls and preventing hospital readmissions.

Greater adoption of technology is necessary to bridge the care gap, as the caregiver shortage continues to grow, Collins said. Additionally, technologies can keep seniors safer and at home longer, ultimately cutting down on the high costs associated with hospital admissions and institutional care settings.

Collins has long been an advocate for the home-based care industry. She’s introduced and backed a number of supportive bills, including S. 433 in February.

If passed, the legislation would require the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to base Medicare reimbursement rates under the upcoming Patient-Driving Groupings Model (PDGM) on observed evidence and data, instead of on assumed changes.

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