Setting the Record Straight on Medicare and Speech-Generating Device Technology

Oct 29, 2014 | by Kevin Self

The speech community is buzzing with information about changes to Medicare’s coverage for speech-generating devices (SGDs). Headlines indicate that Medicare wants to limit coverage for individuals with ALS, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, while other articles point to limits on functionality of SGDs. What the headlines miss are the stories of thousands of people with aphasia who rely on SGDs and their advanced technology to communicate.

As a longtime manufacturer of SGDs and a committed advocate for adults with aphasia and verbal apraxia, we work hard to educate and stand up for those with language disorders caused by stroke or other neurological injury. In today’s blog we outline the most important information about the potential changes to Medicare’s policy on SGDs.

Who Will Be Affected

Medicare is proposing changes that limit the functionality of SGDs and reverse the software advances made in the past decade. The potential changes to SGD technology will impact adults with Aphasia, Cerebral Palsy, ALS, and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and anyone else who depends on Medicare to cover their SGD.

With more than one million people with aphasia and thousands with ALS and TBI, this ruling has the potential to impact many people.


What’s at Stake

In the past 10 years, we have added numerous features to our devices. The three specific at-risk features include integrated video calling, syncing, and practice and communication activities. Each of these features serves a specific function for the device user.

  • Practice and communication activities can be found in the activities section of the device. These exercises allow SGD users to not only communicate their needs, but also practice their communication skills. For example, device user Nancy could practice her oral motor skills with our oral motor videos. Research shows this additional functionality aids recovery and communication, while at the same time increasing overall adoption rates for the SGDs.
  • Integrated video calling, found in our AllTalk model, allows a device user to video call with another computer. This feature allows SGD users to communicate with their loved ones by using their device and video. Removing this feature could mean stripping a device user of a vital communication lifeline.
  • Syncing conversational phrases to a mobile device is also at risk. This advanced technology allows users to sync their most commonly used phrases on their AllTalk SGD with their lighter, more mobile iPhone or iPad (via our SmallTalk app). While simple, this feature is widely used by many mobile and active adults.

These three features are at risk because Medicare believes they reach beyond the functionality of a dedicated SGD. Medicare wants this functionality removed from our devices in order for us to keep our payment eligibility. Our clinical team suggests otherwise. We believe these features provide crucial tools for adults who are working hard to communicate with their family and friends. Many of the speech-language pathologists (SLPs) who recommend our devices also agree.

Take Action

We need your help. We presented the above argument to Medicare in numerous letters and meetings, but it needs to hear from people with speech deficits and the SLPs who treat adults and recommend SGDs. The stories of the patients who regain communication and the clinicians who treat them are powerful. We know, because we hear them all the time. We want Medicare to know and understand this struggle, so SGD functionality is protected now, and in the future.

You can educate, inform, and inspire your peers by sharing this blog and the infographic with your social media networks using #saveSGDtech. Finally, you can contact your local congressional representative and ask them to protect SGD functionality and continue Medicare coverage for the devices. Click here to find your representative’s contact information.

Our Promise

We will continue to work diligently to address the potential changes to the SGD technology before Medicare issues a final ruling on December 1. We feel strongly that our devices provide important functionality to aid speech generation and communication for adults with aphasia and language disorders. We hope you will join us in this effort.

Share the #saveSGDtech Infographic Below