Will Your Health Insurance Cover Hearing Aids?

The second installment of Hearing Tracker’s survey of 2000 hearing aid users has just been published, and it includes some interesting facts and figures.

Paying for Hearing Aids with Medical Insurance, the new Hearing Tracker report,  is based on a survey of 2000 hearing aid users conducted earlier this year by Hearing Tracker and its founder, Abram Bailey.

The news is that 25 percent of hearing aid buyers received some insurance reimbursement. The coverage ranged from $1226 (partial coverage) to $2131 (full coverage). Bailey warned readers that these figures are based on recollection and that people should go to their provider to get an exact figure.

There are two ways of looking at the fact that 25% of hearing-aid users received help in paying for hearing aids. The good news is that this figure is up from 13% in 2008. The glass is half full: the number of people with insurance has doubled in the past decade. Or it’s half empty: three quarters of hearing aid users are paying out of pocket, including Medicare recipients.

Here’s a breakdown of reimbursement by insurance provider. Before you decide to change insurance companies, take heed of Hearing Tracker’s caveat: Please remember that the dollar figures below represent recollections and guesses of hearing aid consumers, and may not accurately depict differences among companies. Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 8.17.14 PM

The comments accompanying the article show that coverage is hugely variable, with many readers writing in to tell their own experiences. There seems to be no definitive answer to what insurance covers what, even in the same state with the same insurance company. This is not unusual in the health-insurance field, as followers of Jeanne Pinder’s ClearHealthCosts.com know.

Three states mandate hearing-aid coverage for adults. Arkansas requires coverage of $1400 per aid every three years. New Hampshire $1500 per aid every 60 months (every five years). Rhode Island $800 per aid every three years. As Bailey wrote: “If you live in one of these states, consider yourself lucky.”

This survey got its start last spring,  when I asked Bailey whether the discussion of over-the-counter hearing aids and non FDA-approved “hearables” had had an effect on the market. I was also curious about insurance coverage, partly because a friend of mine had just gotten two high-end hearing aids, fully covered by his insurance. As far as I can recall, I have never received reimbursement for a hearing aid, so I was surprised.

Bailey responded with the idea of a survey,  which he created. It was sent to those who subscribe to his website, those who follow my website, and to HLAA members. The  respondents represented an experienced and committed group of hearing aid users, and their responses may not be representative of hearing aid users as a whole.

The first report on the survey was published in June 2018 and focussed on the cost of hearing aids. You can read that report here.

I said above that there is no definitive answer to what insurance covers, even in the same state with the same insurance company. Actually, there is one question with a definitive answer: Does Medicare cover hearing aids? The answer is a categorical No.

 

For more about hearing health, read my new book, which will tell you everything I know about hearing loss, hearing aids, and hearing health!Smart Hearing Cover final

You can get it online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, in paperback or ebook for Kindle or Nook. You can also ask your library or favorite independent bookstore to order it. 

 

 

My New Book

SMART HEARING: Strategies, Skills and Resources for Living Better with Hearing Loss. Smart Hearing_Cover_highres

You can get it online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, in paperback or ebook for Kindle or Nook.

If you’re one of the the millions of Americans who have experienced hearing loss, whether newcomer or longtime veteran, this book is for you. It’s also for your friends and family, employers, counselors, clergy. Hearing loss is much misunderstood.

If you follow my blog, you’ve read some of this, but there’s much much more. Smart Hearing is an easy-to-read, comprehensive look at a big, confusing field. I hope you’ll read it, and share it with others who don’t seem to fully get what it is like to have hearing loss.

The opening chapters are about the basics: how to find an audiologist, how to buy a hearing aid, and how pay for it. Later chapters guide you through the world of assistive listening technology, CART captioning, hearing loops, and telecoils. Find out what a cochlear implant is, and who can benefit from one. Chapters on tinnitus and vertigo offer suggestions for prevention and treatment. (In the case of vertigo, some of the suggestions are from personal experience.)

The past year has been a tumultuous time in the hearing-health field. Smart Hearing untangles the confusion about over-the-counter hearing aids, PSAPs, the FDA and what it approves and what it doesn’t.

Everyday experiences are often frustrating for those with hearing loss: dinner parties, travel, work, restaurants. There’s a chapter on managing each of these challenges.

Finally, Smart Hearing urges reader to take note of the sometimes significant health costs of not treating hearing loss.

I hope you’ll read it and share it, and maybe even get your library to order it.

FDA Approves an OTC Hearing Aid

For the past year or so since the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 was passed, I and other hearing-loss advocates have patiently explained time and again that right now there are no OTC hearing aids. That’s because the FDA approval process includes a three-year comment period before it publishes its final regulations. And until that time, only hearing “devices” can be sold over the counter.

Or at least that was what we thought. Last Friday (October 5), the FDA took almost everyone by surprise when it announced that it had approved a Bose hearing aid that consumers will fit and program themselves.

The Bose Hearing Aid, the FDA announcement said, is intended for adults over 18 with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss. “This is the first hearing aid authorized for marketing by the FDA that enables users to fit, program and control the hearing aid on their own, without assistance from a health care provider,” the announcement said. The wireless device processes sound through an earphone in the ear canal, and the user programs the aid on a smart phone.

The FDA does require compliance with sales regulations, “including state laws that might require hearing aids to be purchased from or dispensed by a licensed hearing aid dispenser.”  I’m not sure how many states have that regulation. Would welcome enlightenment.

The Bose Hearing Aid is not yet available, nor has the price been set, but Bose has landed a huge coup. As Abram Bailey at Hearing Tracker noted, “Bose has effectively been granted a very unique position by the FDA.”

The Bose Hearing Aid will be a new product, according to Sandy Weiss at Bose, rather than an adaptation of Bose’s Hearphone, which is a PSAP. As for when they will be available, Ms Weiss said in an email, there is as yet no new product announcement or distribution plan. She added that while details about future pricing are confidential, Bose does “expect to offer more affordable solutions than traditional hearing aid solutions currently on the market.”

So what made the FDA decide to approve this particular hearing aid? After reviewing data from clinical studies of 125 patients the FDA found the results persuasive enough that it approved the Bose Hearing Aid under its De Novo premarket review pathway. The De Novo pathway allows expedited approval of “low- to moderate-risk devices that are novel and for which there is no prior legally marketed device”. (Click here to see a list of other devices approved under the De Novo pathway so far in 2018.) Not only were the results of self-fitting comparable with those of a hearing professional, the FDA noted, but participants in the trial generally preferred their own settings over those selected by a hearing aid professional.

The announcement was made after the close of the European stock markets on Friday but by 10 AM Eastern time on Monday, the shares of the Danish companies GN Store Nord and William Demant Holding had each fallen by 13 percent, with Switzerland’s Sonova dropping 10 percent The American markets saw a similar drop. Obviously Bose, a privately held company, is seen as a threat to conventional hearing aid sales.

 

 

 

Want to Help People with Hearing Loss?

Dear Readers,

This is an unabashed pitch for contributions to the Hearing Loss Association of America, which has helped me and millions of others to live better with hearing loss. Please help sustain HLAA’s advocacy and education by supporting me in this year’s Walk4Hearing, our annual fund-raising and awareness event, which takes place September 23.fb_nyc_chapter FB profile

Click on this link now before you forget. Fill in my name in the space provided on the right (you may need to click on “participant”). Join our team, or donate to support our work.

HLAA has worked tirelessly to change the way hearing aids are sold, resulting in the passage of the historic Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, which will benefit many millions of people who cannot now afford hearing aids.  The next step is to get health-insurance to cover the cost.  Currently, Medicare does not cover hearing aids, a proven health benefit to the 30 million older Americans who need them.

Hearing loss is no minor nuisance associated with growing older. It affects people of all ages and has been linked to depression, lost employment, cognitive decline and a greater risk of falls in the elderly. It is usually totally treatable.

         Please help sustain and advance our work by donating to our annual event. Click on this link to support me personally (by clicking on my name) or our team. 

Your contribution will also help support the New York City chapter of HLAA, of which I am the president. We provide support and education to New Yorkers with hearing loss, and we have lobbied successfully for hearing access in both public and private venues.

Mayor 2017 bill
March 21, 2017, New York becomes the nation’s first major municipality to require hearing loops in places of public assembly.

Thanks to HLAA advocacy, the city has installed high-quality hearing assistive devices—hearing loops – in City Hall, and in 2017 passed a law requiring all new and renovated city buildings to include at least one meeting space with a hearing loop. Live captioning and ASL interpreters are also available on request.

If you love movies, you have probably encountered the captioning devices now available at all chain theaters and many independents. If you are a theater-goer, check out the Gala-Pro app that provides captioning on your smart phone or tablet for all Broadway and many off-Broadway theaters, many of which also have hearing loops.  If you like restaurants but hate the noise, two new smart-phone apps, iHearU and Soundprint, allow you to check in advance the noise levels of a particular restaurant, and to make your own rating. Yelp for noise!

All of these were achieved through HLAA advocacy.

Thanks for your past contributions. Even small donations make a big difference.

 

Hearing Aid Facts and Figures

Almost a year after the passage of the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017,  I was curious to know if the bill and the attendant publicity had affected the hearing aid marketplace. So I asked an expert: Abram Bailey of Hearing Tracker.save-money-image

OTC hearing aids won’t be on the market for months, if not years. But the one-year anniversary seemed like a good time to try to establish some kind of benchmark in terms of sales, prices, location where purchased, brands, cost and other issues that may begin to shift after OTC hearing aids become available.

The bipartisan OTC bill, sponsored in the Senate by Republican Chuck Grassley and Democrat Elizabeth Warren, was signed into law by President Trump in August 2017. The FDA, which regulates hearing aids, has three years from the time the bill was signed for comments and questions. The final regulations will reflect the views not only of consumer advocates but also of audiologists and other medical professionals as well as hearing aid companies and dispensers. Until that comment period is over, there will be no OTC hearing aids.

Abram Bailey constructed a survey that was filled out by over 2000 consumers. (Here is a link to the survey) The respondents were a self-selected group, already aware of their hearing loss and many already wearing hearing aids. The survey was sent to Hearing Tracker followers, HLAA members, and people who follow my blog.

Part 1 of the survey was published last week. Parts 2 and 3, focusing on hearing-aid preference and recommendations, insurance coverage, and purchase of accessories (assistive listening devices, for instance), will be published in the coming weeks.

The survey first established the demographics of the respondents: 54.7 were female and 44.2 male. More than three-quarters were over the age of 55, with pretax income that reflects that of the population at large. More than half were retired. Their self-reported levels of hearing loss ranged from mild to profound, with 18.2 percent reporting that their hearing loss was profound, and 31.4 percent reporting severe hearing loss. As would be expected from the respondents surveyed, many were experienced hearing aid users, over half with 10-plus years of use. This is a very different sample from those who are just now becoming aware of their loss and buying hearing aids, but the trends are interesting.

Almost all (84 percent) bought a pair of hearing aids, as opposed to a single aid. More than half bought what they understood to be top-end hearing aids and more than a third bought mid-range hearing aids. The average price paid was $2560 for a single aid, or $2,336 per aid when purchased as a pair. This is more or less in line with the reports from the President’s Commission on Hearing and Technology (October 2015), which recommended a “basic” hearing aid, and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (June 2016), which found an average cost of approximately $4700 for a pair of hearing aids.

The top brand purchased by survey respondents was Phonak, with Oticon and ReSound second and third. Eleven other brands were purchased by at least 10 respondents. Not surprisingly, the share of the US market reflected sales figures, with Sonova (Phonak) accounting for 30 percent. William Demant (Oticon) and GN Resound third. All three also own other brands. (The market share statistics date from 2015, and may have changed.)

Did cost affect market share? Starkey (# 4 in market share at 16 percent) had the highest average price paid ($2,674), with Widex (with 3 percent of market share) being the second most expensive ($2,672). The least expensive were Kirkland Signature (Costco’s house brand) at $963.

I was interested to see that the vast majority were fitted by and bought through audiologists (75.18 percent) or hearing-instrument specialists (20.46 percent) Audiology training is far more rigorous than that of hearing instrument specialists. Hearing aids sold by audiologists (1056 responses) cost on average $2,499 per device, those sold by hearing instrument specialists (337 responses) $1944 averaged per device.

The data also revealed, however, that hearing instrument specialists and audiologists seemed to charge the same amount when in similar settings (a local office, for instance). The disparity may reflect the fact that at Costco hearing professionals are mostly hearing-instrument specialists (40 percent) with only 4 percent audiologists. Those who bought at Costco, the survey found, were more than twice as likely to have been fitted by a hearing aid specialist as by an audiologist. Costco’s current estimated market share is 11 percent of all US hearing aid sales.

Costco sells, in addition to its own brand, Phonak and Resound, at vastly reduced prices. How is this? Abram Bailey speculated that it may be due in part to the fact that the aids sold are not the brand’s latest model (usually one generation behind flagship stores) Costco also can purchase in volume, and has very little overhead for its hearing aid sales.

Most surprising to me was the response to a question about the length of time it took for respondents to buy hearing aids once they had learned about their hearing loss. It is commonly said that most people wait 7 to 10 years before buying hearing aids. Over half the survey  respondents reported buying their first hearing aids within two years of learning they had a loss. As Bailey noted, this discrepancy may be the result of sampling bias (the respondents were all already hearing-aid users) or erroneous self-reporting (a respondent might like to think she had bought hearing aids within two years when in fact it had taken her 4-5 to make that decision.)

As the survey says, Stay tuned for more.

 

 

Do Your Hearing Aids Sweat?

outdoor-thermometerhygrometer-picture-id153970895

It’s hot. And humid.

Perfect weather for ruining your hearing aids.

Moisture. Whether it’s humidity or sweat, getting caught in a downpour, or diving into the pool, moisture is terrible for your hearing aids. It’s damaging to the delicate inner workings (the microphone, flexible circuit board, disposable battery, receiver and antenna). And it can clog the tubing that connects your behind-the-ear processor to the in-the-ear component.

Wax: Hot weather seems to increase wax buildup, which can block your hearing and makes your hearing aid dirty. If you have a custom mold, waxy buildup may make the in-the-ear mold uncomfortable. If your hearing aid has wax guards, make sure you replace them regularly. If it doesn’t, a small brush and pick to clean wax out of the tubing and ear mold is helpful. Don’t forget to clean the battery compartment.

Full immersion? Accidentally dunked your hearing aids?  Don’t panic. Take the hearing aid out and remove the battery (discard it). Shake the hearing aid to remove any excess moisture. If the water is salt water or dirty, rinse the component with fresh water. Dry it off and then leave it on dry newspaper overnight. You can also use a hair dryer but only on a cool setting. Audicus suggests putting the aid into a jar of uncooked rice. Never expose the hearing aid to heat, and if you’re thinking maybe the microwave would be faster, don’t do it!

Many people routinely put their hearing aids in a hearing aid dehumidifier overnight. This would also be a good place for the wet hearing aids as well. Harris Communications offers a variety of these, as does Amazon.com and other retailers..

Do hearing aids sweat? No, it just feels like it.

For more about living with hearing loss, see my books at Amazon.com.