Medicare and Hearing Aids

Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids. This is the one thing about hearing loss that never fails to surprise people new to the field. The fact that Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids even for the most severe and disabling hearing loss is even more shocking. Despite universal agreement among health care practitioners that untreated hearing loss can lead to serious mental and physical problems in older adults, Medicare won’t support the single best treatment: hearing aids.

The Good News.  On December 16, Congress passed a bipartisan bill to cover hearing aids and hearing audiology services. HR 3 allows the Federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices and use these savings to cover the costs of hearing, dental and vision services. This is an issue that the Hearing Loss Association of America and other groups have been advocating for for years. In addition to covering hearing aids, the bill permits reclassifying audiologists as practitioners under Medicare, qualifying them for reimbursement. The audiology professional groups — the AAA, ADA, and ASHA — urged the Senate to adopt the measures. HLAA praised the action as a “significant step forward.”

The Caveats. While celebrating the passage of HR 3 as a historic achievement, HLAA urged caution. The bill must be passed by the Senate, where there is significant opposition to negotiating drug prices. “Senators, as well as the Trump Administration, are exploring other ways to lower the cost of prescription drugs,” HLAA said in a statement. “Whether these alternatives will also include hearing aid coverage under Medicare remains to be seen.”

Don’t Wait to Get Hearing Aids. The sooner you treat hearing loss, the more effective the treatment is likely to be. So don’t wait for Congress to get its act together and actually make this provision law.

The National Institute on Aging notes that untreated hearing loss can lead to depression and isolation, as well as cognitive decline and dementia. Hearing problems are also also associated with greater risk of falls, which can be devastating for a vulnerable adult. Medicare doesn’t cover vision or dental care either, meaning that older adults may be on their own financially when it comes to three components of healthy aging. It’s a short-sighted policy and one that may finally be rectified.

If you can’t afford hearing aids sold through private audiologists, alternatives exist. Consider the big box stores like Costco, which sells brand name hearing aids at lower prices than independents. Other stores like Best Buy, Sam’s Club and Walgreens also sell hearing aids, although they cannot legally be called “hearing aids” without FDA approval. Many insurers sell affiliated  brands of hearing aids at a much lower cost than you would pay privately. United HealthCare, for instance, sells hearing aids through hiHealth Innovations. HearingTracker allows you to compare hearing aid prices in a geographical area, Readers, please share other alternatives to high-priced hearing aids in the comments section.

Consumer electronics products are good starter hearing devices (Don’t go too cheap.)  In addition, sometime in 2020 the FDA will issue its regulations for over-the-counter hearing aids, making access to FDA approved hearing aids cheaper and more accessible.

For now, it’s great that Congress was able to take a little time out from impeachment to get this important bill on the agenda.

For more about living with hearing loss, read my books: Smart Hearing and Shouting Won’t Help.

 

 

 

 

 

13 thoughts on “Medicare and Hearing Aids

  1. thanks. just posted on Fbook and emailed sister who is shopping for aids currently.
    my ent says aids will not help my cochlear hydrops. 😢

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  2. Hearing loss is an invisible disability and not serious enough for support. This is why it has been ignored by Medicare. I use a cane now and have difficulty walking. I cannot believe how people bend over backwards to open doors and other services. When I was growing up eighty years ago hearing loss was considered a joke or you were just stupid. I do believe the people who are losing their hearing are finally speaking up for their accommodations. Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) is the best organization to become a member if you are or know of someone who is experiencing hearing loss. HLAA provides education, information, support and advocacy for those who do not hear well but speak and listen.

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  3. Hi Katherine, Thanks for this Post. . .it is so important . . .and such a crime that Hearing, Dental, and Vision have been ignored by Medicarefor so long. I have an 82-year-old patient who knows she needs aids, but getting her to spend the money is proving to bea  challenge.  She is on a budget (albeit a Manhattan Beach budget!), and all she can think about is that it will strap her if shehas an emergency, such as needing a new roof.  Meanwhile, her hearing loss is definitely contributing to her depression, isolation and cognitive issues. I can’t legally reach out to her adult children, because I don’t have a release, and she would not want that in any event.Maybe I should let her put on my aids and hear the difference, and then she’d understand that she is living only half a life right now. To be continued . . . xoxo, Helena

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    • It probably would backfire to let her try your hearing aids — they wouldn’t be right for her. But maybe you could persuade her to try one of the hearing-aid alternatives. Or at least go to Costco and browse the hearing-aid offerings. Has she had a hearing test? That would be an important first step.

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    • Until this lady is able to get hearing aids I would suggest a Personal Assistive Listening device. She would be able to hear at family gatherings. I have seen them on the internet for between 100-170 dollars. The headset is about $ 25 dollars and some include the headset with the order. The Pocketalker Ultra brand comes also with a long cord and the microphone is placed under the sound portion of the TV for listening. The Ultra has volume and tone control. I always travel with mine in case the hearing aids die during travel. This way I can hear one-on-one and not have to say “huh”. I learned this information by joining HLAA.

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  4. After reviewing 6 different Medicare supplemental health insurance plans, I found that hearing loss is not considered a health care issue. It is not “medically necessary.” One can live without hearing…often not well, but you can live. However, someone with a profound hearing loss or who is deaf would give you an “earful” of what that experience is. But hearing aids do not begin to give the person back their “hearing world” experience, they only offer a fraction of the words from that experience.

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    • I have to disagree Alice C. I think many many people benefit hugely from hearing aids. It may take some patience to get used to them (and putting them in the drawer will not help). It might be that a person needs a different brand or kind of hearing aid. All states require a trial period. In New York State that’s 45 days. If they’re still not working well after you’ve tried them for a few weeks, take them back and try a different hearing aid. I’ve done this with almost every new hearing aid I’ve gotten. It’s hard to get it right the first time (especially for people with severe hearing loss) but it’s worth persisting. Thanks for writing!

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    • If you are looking into purchasing a hearing aid and do not where to turn a university or hospital with an audiology department is a good place to start. Hearing aids today are so much better than they were 70 years ago. A mild hearing loss can be treated with a hearing aid and is recommended. Most states have a trial period so when you are in the market for a hearing aid have a signed commitment that a refund after 30 days or more can be returned. Those full page newspaper adds selling hearing aids that guarantee “you can hear a pin drop” I question their reliability.

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      • I totally agree. I do think, though, that if you need hearing aids but can’t afford them — even the less expensive ones — try one of the better consumer electronics devices, like the Bose hear phones or the Sound World Solutions device. Or, as you say in your next comment, a Pocket Talker or other kind of assistive listening device. Medicaid does cover hearing aids for adults in some states. The HLAA website has an informative page on Medicaid regulations.
        https://www.hearingloss.org/hearing-help/financial-assistance/medicaid/.
        Check your own state regs, especially as the calendar year changes, as the list may not be totally up to date.

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  5. Regrettably, Alice C’s negative view of hearing aids is widespread – and why a majority of adults with hearing loss don’t buy and wear them. That bias against hearing aids is also why folks with hearing loss feel stigma, give up on living in the hearing world and accept a diminished quality of life. It’s why some only want hearing aids that cannot be seen when worn, when we know that the more severe the hearing loss the larger the device that is needed.
    It’s a disgrace that hearing aids are not covered by Medicare. But cost is not the chief reason more people don’t get hearing aids. That is shown by the same low percent of people who get hearing aids in both the US and in countries where they are covered by socialized medicine.

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    • Stigma of course is a huge deterrent, as we see in the case of the UK where hearing aids are free and only one in six who could benefit uses them. But one way to overcome stigma is for more people, including young people, to wear them. If we think of them as a way to enhance hearing, the same way we think of glasses as a way to enhance vision, we’ll make the first step towards defeating stigma. But costs stands in the way for too many people, as does lack of hearing services in many areas. It’s circular — the longer you put off hearing aids the harder it is to adjust to them — and the less well they work when you do finally get them.

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