Opinion

The Importance of Hearing Aid Coverage

The Food and Drug Administration recently held a public workshop on the restrictiveness of hearing aid regulations, ones which were put in place to protect the hearing health of the roughly 30 million Americans suffering from some degree of hearing loss. These conversations bring up the important topic of increasing access to hearing devices.  However, the answer to this problem does not lie in deregulating this type of specialty medical care to a one-size-fits-all market.

The retirement age in the United States stands firm at 65, yet age-related hearing loss can begin to set in much earlier. Medicare excludes hearing aid coverage and only two-thirds of states cover adult hearing aids through Medicaid. On top of that, no state mandates that private health insurance plans cover hearing devices for adults and only seven have such a mandate for children. These statistics leave those without coverage to pay out-of-pocket an average of $4,500 per pair for these necessary therapeutic aids.

This cost burden on individuals who are in need of hearing aids has led to a recent increase in the over-the-counter sales of personal sound amplification devices, or PSAPs. While inexpensive, the main problem with these non-prescription personal hearing devices is that they’re not personalized; they don’t address the root cause of hearing loss and could even cause further damage.  While technological advancements may play an important role down the road in expanding access to hearing devices, bypassing the regulatory process for inferior products is not the safest and most effective way to increase access.

Like vision and dental, hearing health care plays a vital role in one’s quality of life. If affordable hearing device expansion is the overall objective of opening up the regulatory framework, then the first step should be increasing coverage instead of deregulating cheaper, less reliable devices.

Cate McCanless is policy director at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

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