Submitted by guest editor Debora Harvey, Patient Navigator LLC
I went to pick up my hearing aids yesterday. These are fairly new, only a few months old, yet I have had to send them back to the manufacturer twice so far, and I am not confident that they will work well even now. The irony is that I paid $3,000 out of pocket for these assistance devices. They are not covered by my health insurance. I do have a “discount program” that enables me to go to a provider that has an agreement with my insurance provider, who supposedly charges me less than the current market rate for these devices. Unfortunately, I am much less than satisfied by both the quality of the hearing aids, and the competence of the “audiological specialist” to whom my insurance company has steered me.
I was in my twenties when diagnosed with a hearing loss significant enough to need amplification. I resisted the need for hearing aids, but the doctor explained to me that, unless I could get the sounds to my brain, my brain would slowly lose the ability to recognize sounds and speech. Even if my hearing were miraculously restored, I would be unable to understand the words people spoke.
According to the American Speech Language Hearing Association, hearing loss is the number one birth defect in the United States. Twenty percent of children have some sort of hearing or speech disorder. Half of the 28 million Americans with a hearing disability are under the age of 50.
Among other statistics, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that:
- Approximately 17 percent (36 million) of American adults report some degree of hearing loss.
- There is a strong relationship between age and reported hearing loss: 18 percent of American adults 45-64 years old, 30 percent of adults 65-74 years old, and 47 percent of adults 75 years old or older have a hearing impairment.
- About 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born deaf or hard-of-hearing. Nine out of every 10 children who are born deaf are born to parents who can hear.
Yet many insurance companies significant limit coverage of audiological services, if indeed they cover them at all. Medicare, the primary insurance for millions of older Americans, does not cover hearing aids or eyeglasses, basic needs for people who are losing the acuity of sight and hearing as they get older.
It is a matter of economics. In order to keep private or group premiums affordable for individuals or employers, these type of assistance devices are excluded from coverage. If Medicare were to include this coverage, its budget would be hundreds of millions of dollars more every year; dollars found in tax increases.
ASHA has an active advocacy program working to improve disability benefits in general, especially those relating to hearing disabilities. Take a look if you or someone you know needs help.
To learn more about hearing loss and other communication disorders, visit the NIDCD Health Information site.