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How to Pay for Hearing Aids

Untreated hearing loss has been linked to a higher level of depression, cognitive decline, dementia, falls, visits to the emergency room, and hospital stays. Despite this, says an article from ncoa Adviser, “Financial Assistance for Hearing Aids: A Complete Guide for Older Adults,” fewer than 15% of adults who need hearing aids use them, and the average person takes nearly nine years to go about getting a pair after being told they have hearing loss.

Part of the reason for the delay is financial. Resources for getting hearing aids vary from state to state, and even county to county, which can be confusing. Here’s how to get started.

First, check with your health insurance company to see what’s covered and ask about additional services. You’re not just buying an appliance. Hearing aids require activation and fitting, and other unexpected out-of-pocket costs may occur. Sometimes the easiest way to verify insurance is to have a hearing aid clinic check into it.

Except in five states—Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island—insurance providers are not required to cover hearing aids as part of health care for adults. Medicare Parts A and B don’t cover the cost of hearing aids or fitting exams. Still, Medicare Part B covers hearing and balance exams ordered by a doctor and an annual audiology appointment to evaluate hearing loss. Whether or not Medicare Advantage, aka Medicare Part C, provides coverage depends upon the plan.

Medicaid coverage varies by state and plan. Many people with Medicare and Medicaid can sign up with select insurance companies and get coverage at no additional cost, but the coverage varies. Also, the quality of the hearing aids may differ.

Active duty military service members and family members diagnosed with hearing loss meeting the coverage criteria may be eligible to receive hearing aids through a TRICARE-approved provider. For veterans, the VA has hearing aid benefits. They should reach out to their local office or representative. The VA website has information on how to apply for VA hearing health care and find the nearest provider.

Federal employees of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) have access to discounted hearing aids, including a free hearing exam, discounted hearing aids, and aftercare support.

Those with mild to moderate hearing loss can now consider over-the-counter hearing aids. Note that the cost of the device you are buying is a third of the price. The rest of the costs are services, so be sure what services are bundled into the offerings. Instead of relying on online reviews, research trusted sources. You’ll want to clearly understand the return policy, warranty coverage for damage and loss, and customer service.

Reference: ncoa Adviser (July 2, 2023) “Financial Assistance for Hearing Aids: A Complete Guide for Older Adults”

When Will Hearing Aids Be OTC (Over the Counter)?

Some people avoid purchasing hearing aids because of their hefty price tags. The cost for a single hearing aid ranges from hundreds of dollars to more than $4,000. Moreover, Medicare and most private insurers don’t usually cover the expense. Thus, affordability is a “significant barrier” to purchasing hearing aids, according to a paper in the Hearing Journal, a hearing health care publication.

However, an FDA rule is slated to take effect in mid-October, at which point hearing aid manufacturers will have 240 days to amend relevant product labels and marketing to comply with the new OTC requirements. OTC hearing aids will likely be more affordable and accessible to consumers than most other FDA-approved hearing aids on the market right now.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “FDA Rule Allows Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids To Hit Shelves As Soon As October, Improving Access Nationwide” reports that according to the FDA’s new rule, over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are hearing aids intended for people at least 18 years old with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss.

Hearing aids will be available at stores and online retailers (who aren’t required to be licensed sellers) without the need for a medical exam, prescription or fitting adjustment by an audiologist or hearing health professional. The OTC hearing aids must be controllable by the user and customizable to the user’s hearing needs, allowing them to make volume and frequency-dependent changes based on their preferences without the assistance of a professional.

Note that OTC hearing aids are different from personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), which are used to amplify sounds in certain environments and aren’t subject to FDA regulation.

While specific cost information hasn’t been announced by the FDA, OTC hearing aids are expected to be more affordable than prescription hearing aids. Those are frequently sold bundled with audiology services. Affordable OTC hearing aids have the potential to make hearing aids more easily available to people with some degree of hearing loss who may not otherwise be able to afford them. Users also won’t be required to present a prescription from an audiologist or other hearing health professional to get them.

However, members of some hearing health industry associations are concerned about consumers purchasing and using OTC hearing aids without first completing a hearing evaluation conducted by a hearing health professional.

They worry people might damage their ears from overamplification or simply not get a positive result with the products and give up on hearing aids altogether. That has many social and health implications.

However, the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) openly supports a regulated market for OTC hearing aids.

Reference: Forbes (Aug. 16, 2022) “FDA Rule Allows Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids To Hit Shelves As Soon As October, Improving Access Nationwide”

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