Hearing Loss Help Is Often Out of Reach

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.

About Elisabeth Schuler Russell

The curator of this blog is Elisabeth Schuler Russell, Founder and President of Patient Navigator, LLC. Her goal is to inform readers about important healthcare topics and teach them to become informed healthcare consumers.
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One Response to Hearing Loss Help Is Often Out of Reach

  1. David A. Thorpe says:

    I have been dispensing hearing aids in California for the past 28 years.I have fit every type of hearing loss and every type of personality during that time and I have come to the conclusion that there are three factors in a successfu hearing fitting, which means usage of the aids. One third of the fitting is the product (Hearing Aid) one third is the dispenser, whatever their title,and the other third is the client or patient.I have found that hearing aid manufacturers are primarily assemblers of hearing aid components, and that they are almost all alike with few exceptions. One of the most important considerations for the Dispenser, since he is a service provider and a business person, as is everyone else in the healthcare field, is compatibility with the hearing aid Manufacturer and the client-patient and the ability to do business with both.Too often, clients think that the most important influence or factor, is the hearing aid. That is not the case. The Patient-Client is the most important factor, and then the Dispenser.Experience, by all three components mentioned, is the most important consideration. First time Users of hearing aids, as they are referred to by the Industry, are without question or doubt the most difficult to fit (Satisfy) because they have unrealistic expectations. The purpose of a hearing aid is to enable the user (Client-Patient) to understand the spoken word correctly in as many environments as possible, and with as many communicators as possible. Some people, for whatever reason, are not good speakers. In my 28 years, there have been less than 6 times, out of thousands of hearing aids, that the product was defective. Usually the problem is in the ear canal of the user, or the work environment. Cerumen (earwax) is the number one problem, and then moisture,dirt,or dust. Dirty hands that deposit contiminants onto the microphones.
    Because of Digital Signal Processing, the response curve of the hearing aid can be very precise and set to the audion preferences of the User. Other features, (Programs) make the hearing aid more tolerable and effective in more environments.It takes patience and practice on everyone’s part. The physical designs now available, enable Dispensers to be more effective in their fittings, and more tolerable and effective for the hearing aid User.
    I have come to the conclusion, in agreement with my Mentor 28 years ago who was a prominent ENT, THAT FITTING HEARING AIDS IS MORE AN ART THAN A SCIENCE.
    My best advice to anyone navigating for hearing aids is that they seek out the Dispenser (whatever they are called) with the oldest State Dispensing License. What that usually reflects is Experience,Competence,Integrity,Ethics,and Compliance with State Laws, which at least in California are vigerously enforced. It also usually means they are fair and competitively priced, or they wouldn’t have survived very long in the competitive business world of hearing aidsd. Not to mention honesty.

    David A. Thorpe
    (800)432-7114

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