Does Medicare Pay for Hearing Aids?

man with hearing aid behind the ear

Sid watches the baseball game with the television turned really high. His wife has been noticing that it is getting louder and louder. In fact, she can hear it outside the house in her garden and the neighbor said he can even hear it. She also noticed that she has to repeat things she says to her husband over and over again, but wasn’t sure at first if that was a problem, or if he just wasn’t listening to her! She is afraid that her husband is losing his hearing, but is concerned about the cost of a hearing aid, since they live on a fixed income.

Sid is not alone. Most people gradually lose some hearing as they get older. In fact, more than 48 million Americans, including 1 in 6 baby boomers and two-thirds of those over 70, have some type of hearing loss that seriously disrupts their life. Experts expect that number to rise as boomers are aging.
Many men and women who need hearing aids, however, often feel they can’t afford them, and that’s not surprising. Prices for a single hearing aid can range from $1200 for a low-end device to $4,000 – $5,000 or more for a higher-end one, and 80% of wearers need two. Battery costs are $30 to $150 per year. This is simply undoable for many seniors, who desperately need hearing aids!  And sadly, up to now, Medicare has not paid at all for hearing aids.

Will Medicare Ever Start Covering Hearing Aids?

Democratic congressmen recently joined senior advocacy groups in calling for Medicare to pay for hearing aids and other audiology services. Their call was backed by research that says impaired hearing can socially isolate seniors and may contribute to their risk of developing dementia.

Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, noted hearing-impaired seniors may not hear an approaching car, a ringing phone, or an alarm alerting them to danger. They also may not clearly hear their doctor’s instructions for taking medications. According to Richtman, “Medicare covers a wheelchair for seniors who can’t walk, and it provides test strips for people with diabetes. Hearing loss is another debilitating condition that must be recognized and covered.”

Frank R. Lin, an ear, nose and throat research specialist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, concurs with Richtman. He recently co-authored a study that concluded hearing loss “must be recognized as a public health concern.” Dr. Lin said because diminished hearing is part of the normal process of aging, it is often seen as “inevitable and even inconsequential.” But, in addition to cognitive decline, poor hearing increases the risks of falls and other health hazards.

The Status of Medicare Coverage for Hearing Aids

In response to this problem, three Democratic congressmen — Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Jim McDermott of Washington state, and Debbie Dingell of Michigan have separately proposed legislation to remove the specific exclusion of hearing aids from the 1965 Medicare amendment to the Social Security Act. Some bills include vision and dental coverage as well. No estimate of the potential cost was given.

While the future of these bills in a Republican-controlled Congress may be uncertain, supporters point to the research showing the health dangers and costs of untreated hearing loss. They also point to the fact that with Medicare beneficiaries receiving an average of $1,300 a month, the cost of good quality hearing aids can be out of reach for many seniors. We will continue to keep you up-to-date on the progress of this important issue through Social Media, so if you don’t already, be sure to follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Making Hearing Aids Affordable for Those Who Need Them

If Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids, how can those who need them afford them? A survey conducted by Consumer Reports found that 40% of those who bargained got a price break. Other than that, there is some limited help available, as follows:

-Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs): For those with these accounts, the cost of a hearing aid and batteries is considered reimbursable.

-Health Savings Accounts (HSAs): As with FSAs, these types of accounts cover the cost of hearing aids and batteries. Unlike FSAs, money in your HSA accumulates from year to year, allowing you to save toward the cost.

-Veteran benefits: Vets get hearing aids if their hearing loss is connected to their military service or linked to a medical condition treated at a VA hospital. Veterans also can get devices through the VA if their hearing loss is severe enough to interfere with activities of daily life.

-Federal employee assistance: Federal employees and their families are entitled to coverage through some insurance plans. Health plans pay for a basic hearing aid, and employees pay for extras and upgrades themselves.

-Nonprofits: Sertoma helps people with hearing problems and runs a hearing aid recycling program, SHARP through its 420 clubs (1-816-333-8300). HEAR Now, sponsored by the Starkey Hearing Foundation provides hearing aids for people with limited income. Clients pay for evaluations and a fee of $125 per aid.

-Private insurers: Few private insurance companies cover hearing aids, but only three states — New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Arkansas — require that insurers provide coverage for adults.

-Affordable Care Act: A few states include some coverage for hearing aids and related services under their health insurance exchanges. Information about this coverage is available from the Hearing Loss Association of America and through the Department of Health and Human Services.  This government site gives additional information on proposed essential health benefits benchmark plans by state.

-Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRA): It’s up to your employer, who funds this type of account, to decide if hearing aids and batteries are reimbursable. Check with your company’s benefits department.

Not Wearing a Hearing Aid When You Need One

Unfortunately, only 1 out of 5 people who could benefit from a hearing aid wear one. Although not wearing a hearing aid won’t cause hearing loss, there is some evidence that wearing an aid when you need one may help protect the hearing you have left.

Some people may not realize they have a problem. Others believe waiting won’t cause any harm; still others are simply embarrassed to admit they can’t hear well. But if you don’t wear a hearing aid when you need one, or only wear it some of the time, you can completely lose the ability to process sounds.

In addition, as mentioned previously, not wearing a hearing aid is a safety concern, since hearing loss has been linked to falls, social isolation, depression, even dementia. So remind yourself that needing help with hearing is no different than needing glasses to read. Ask your doctor to check your hearing regularly and, if necessary, refer you to an ENT or audiologist who can diagnose the extent of hearing loss and suggest aids or assisted devices that can help. Hopefully Medicare will begin approving them, or you can use some of the suggestions described above for paying for them.

Medicaid Planning for Dementia

What if your apparent hearing loss is actually a symptom of dementia? A diagnosis of dementia is life-changing for both diagnosed individuals and those close to them. Generally, the earlier someone with dementia plans for long-term care needs, the better.  But it is never too late to begin the process of Long-term Care Planning, also called Lifecare Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection Planning.

At the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. Please call us any time to make an appointment for a consultation.

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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