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Auditory Assistance: The Ongoing Fight For Medicare To Cover Hearing Aids

Hearing loss presents a serious challenge, both financially and emotionally, to seniors and their families, yet the cost of treatment is too high for many to afford. Medicare doesn’t cover Hearing services except under very narrow circumstances, but under the HEAR Act, that may change:

The Background

Over 38 million Americans suffer from hearing loss, a condition that becomes increasingly likely with age. A third of those over age 65, and half of those over 85, have trouble hearing. Without proper treatment, hearing loss can severely compromise one’s life and social interactions, contributing to:

  • Social Disengagement– Those who suffer from hearing loss often feel embarrassed when they attempt to interact with others, and thus reduce their social interaction to a minimum. This lowers their quality of life and leads to feelings of loneliness and helplessness.
  • Injuries– Those with limited hearing have trouble picking up threatening noises or holding their balance, making them more likely to be injured during ordinary activities. These injuries are often serious, causing or contributing to age-related disability.
  • Emotional Issues– Hearing loss patients often experience anxiety, frustration, anger, paranoia, depression, and a wide range of other negative emotions. The worse their hearing gets, the more emotional issues they have.
  • Stress– The aforementioned issues all contribute to stress, which can in turn cause or exacerbate diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other life-threatening illnesses.
  • Memory Loss– Because hearing stimulates the brain, the loss of hearing speeds up cognitive decline, especially in patients who already show signs of dementia.

These issues place great emotional and financial strain on hearing loss victims and their families. Quality Hearing Aids can lessen this strain, but the cost of hearing aids is prohibitively high for many families. Hearing aids range in price from $600 to over $5,000 each, a cost that seniors living on fixed incomes often cannot pay. Even those who can afford hearing aids don’t have the money to replace them if they break, are the wrong size, or otherwise prove inadequate. Because Medicare won’t cover care for hearing loss unless it is the result of accident or illness, many families are forced to choose between spending thousands of dollars in the short term or weathering the long-term risks of hearing loss. It is this dilemma that the HEAR Act seeks to solve.

Seniors who need hearing aids are currently left to their own devices, but the HEAR Act seeks to change that. If enacted, it would provide Medicare coverage for audio acuity tests, hearing aid fittings and adjusting, and other audiology services. First introduced in 2013, the bill was never enacted, but its supporters have reintroduced the bill and refuse to give up.

What is the HEAR Act?

The Help Extend Auditory Relief (HEAR) Act would provide Medicare coverage for seniors who suffer from hearing loss. The bill defines hearing aids as all wearable devices that compensate for hearing loss, and would require Medicare to pay for all such devices. It would also modify the Social Security Act to pay for hearing aid fittings and adjustments, audio acuity threshold tests, audiology tests to determine if hearing aids are necessary, and other hearing rehabilitation services.

The bill was first introduced in September of 2013 by US Representative Matt Cartwright (D- PA), along with the support of Yvette Clarke (NY- D), Raúl Grijalva (AZ- D), and ten other members of Congress. Despite support from the National Grange, the National Council on Aging, the Hearing Loss Association of America, and other lobbies, the bill was held up in committee and never came to a vote. Its supporters did not give up, however, and on June 18th of this year, Cartwright reintroduced the bill and demanded a “national conversation” on hearing care.

What’s next?

Cartwright and his supporters are likely to continue advocating for this bill until it comes to a vote. In the meantime, those concerned about future hearing loss have several options to lessen the burden of hearing care, including:

  • Medicare Advantage– Although Medicare itself doesn’t cover most hearing services, private plans to supplement Medicare often do. Many Advantage plans cover hearing aids, fitting exams, and a myriad of other auditory services.
  • Medicaid– Though it varies from state to state, adults who qualify for Medicaid are able to attain hearing aids under that program. Children must be covered under Medicaid’s Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment program.
  • Healthcare Exchanges– 22 states offer some form of hearing aid coverage, and 18 of those states require such coverage.

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Auditory Assistance: The Ongoing Fight For Medicare To Cover Hearing Aids


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