The loss of hearing is a common disability. However, it is also misunderstood and often neglected. Hearing impairment can be severely limiting to an affected individual and indeed should not be ignored. Unfortunately, ignoring hearing problems is commonplace. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that 28 million people in the United States are deaf or hearing impaired. 27 million could benefit from a hearing aid, and only six million use one. Excuses for not using a hearing aid often revolve around finances. All people who need a hearing aid should have access to the services of a hearing healthcare professional regardless of income, and for seniors and those with disabilities who are on Medicare, that is happening thanks in part to recent hearing health legislation.
Since 1965, Medicare has excluded coverage of hearing aids and audiology services thereby eliminating services for those who need them the most. Today, only one in five Americans diagnosed with a hearing problem are using a hearing aid. The barriers to hearing health care for many of these people include the high cost of healthcare, no health insurance coverage, and a lack of available services. Because hearing aids can cost between $1,000 and $6,000, most individuals who rely on Medicare choose to go without which in turn opens the door for dementia and fall risks. So, the need for an expansion of Medicare benefits to allow older Americans access to hearing healthcare services is urgent. Expanding Medicare to include audiology services will do much for the hearing health of many Americans.
The Audiology Patient Choice Act is the new bipartisan bill designed to ensure that seniors and people with disabilities who are on Medicare have access to hearing healthcare professionals. The bill, introduced by United States senators Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul, is intended to improve access to hearing health care for underserved patient populations by allowing hearing healthcare professionals to provide all of the services already covered by Medicare that are in the scope of practice of hearing health professionals.
Provisions included in the bill allow hearing healthcare professionals to receive reimbursement for their audiology services. This bill will classify these professionals much like dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors, and optometrists. Although Medicare does cover many hearing health services, it does not recognize specific hearing health professionals as providers of these services. Currently, it only reimburses for limited tests for diagnosing a hearing or balance disorder and only then if a patient has an order from a physician or nurse practitioner. This level of reimbursement is far more restrictive than many private and federal insurance plans. According to a study from the Mayo Clinic, direct access to audiology does not pose a risk for those on Medicare who have a hearing impairment.
The problem of hearing loss is significant in the United States and abroad. Finances should not dictate whether an individual can obtain treatment for a hearing problem. This critical legislation will provide proper reimbursement for hearing healthcare providers and allow for appropriate auditory diagnosing of Medicare beneficiaries.