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AM I HEARING CORRECTLY?

HEARING AIDS ARE NOT COVERED BY INSURANCE?

 

               According to the American Speech and Hearing Association, “An estimated 35 million children and adults in the United States have a hearing loss.  For these people, selecting the most suitable hearing aids can be vital to enjoying life to its fullest. (However) Less than 25% of all people who need hearing aids actually get them…” https://www.asha.org/public/hearing/hearing-aids-overview/

A 12 year Johns Hopkins longitudinal study found that “…mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk. Moderate loss tripled risk, and people with a severe hearing impairment were five times more likely to develop dementia….”  Those who need hearing aids and do not obtain them are also at increased risk for problems such as 

  • “irritability, negativism and anger
  • fatigue, tension, stress and depression
  • avoidance or withdrawal from social situations
  • social rejection and loneliness
  • reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety
  • impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks
  • reduced job performance and earning power
  • diminished psychological and overall health”

http://www.betterhearing.org/hearingpedia/consequences-hearing-loss

  •   Although there are numerous reasons for those who need them failing to purchase hearing aids, the basic adverse scenario is as follows:
  • 1.      Hearing aids can cost up to $8,000.
  • 2.      As posted on Medicare.gov, “Medicare doesn't cover hearing exams, hearing aids, or exams for fitting hearing aids.” 
  • 3.      The majority of insurance companies do not cover the purchasing of hearing aids.
  • 4.      Large numbers of those who need hearing aids, especially senior citizens, have neither the money to pay nor are able to make use of the “budget flexibility” offered by companies such as Wells Fargo which states, “You can enjoy budget flexibility for healthcare expenses by using the Wells Fargo Health Advantage credit card at offices that accept the card.   …a competitive rate of 12.99% APR makes this card an attractive alternative to other potentially higher-cost financing options.”  https://retailservices.wellsfargo.com/wfha_patient.html
  • 5.      It is likely that a new set of hearing aids will need to be purchased within 5 years and such a periodic cost is prohibitive for many people.

Given the extensive nature of hearing problems and the costs associated with addressing them, why are they not covered by so many insurers?  It turns out that it is all about the bottom line, i.e., the ability of insurers to make a financial profit --not the health of millions! 

There are so many people who need hearing aids that the insurance companies refuse to take the risk of providing such insurance.  Their goal is to provide coverage for health problems with low risks of occurrence and, therefore, seldom have to pay.  The insurance companies’ profit motive is “aided and abetted” by Medicare not paying for hearing aids. 

Even if you are fortunate to have an insurer that contributes, then your benefit might only be $1000, every three years, toward hearing aids.  To address the remaining costs, you might obtain a financial package “deal.”  For example, at a cost of $5,500, one could obtain [1] a high quality set of hearing aids; [2] a repair, loss and damage warranty for 3 years; [3] an initial binaural fitting; and [4] follow-up visits with a certified Audiologist.  Clearly this financial burden can be highly problematic for average Americans nearing retirement with less than $100 thousand in savings and are in need of hearing aids!  Especially hard hit are Blacks, given the ever increasing wealth gap. 

A February 23, 2018 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article indicated, “…In other words, white families on average have 10 times as much wealth as the average black family.  …White people in the Pittsburgh metro area earned a median household income of $59,017 versus $32,534 for blacks. In Allegheny County, whites earned a median income of $61,410 compared to $32,098 for blacks…”  Given these disparities, imagine being hit with up to $8,000 every three years for hearing aids, as merely part of your health costs.  Hence, there is little wonder that a highly controversial “over the counter” hearing aid industry has emerged. 

If ever there was a time that the warning “buyer beware” should be heeded, it is the case when it comes to dealing with unscrupulous “hearing aid merchants.”  Before dealing with such “merchants,” consider the person who has glaucoma and/or cataracts contributing to a severe vision loss but they attempt to treat themselves by purchasing a $10 pair of magnifying glasses instead of first being seen by the appropriate physicians and, in turn, having the cataracts removed, the glaucoma treated, and then obtain the appropriate glasses following an examination by an optometrist.   For lack of money, they might well go blind just as the hearing impaired might become deaf and drift into dementia.

Numerous organizations are lobbying to make changes in health care coverage for hearing aids.  Some states have passed legislation to cover some costs for young children.  As with other critical health matters, it will take a concerted effort to get Congress, State Legislatures, insurance companies, and other relevant parties to make high quality hearing aids available to all who need them. 

Parenthetically, it should be noted that the inability to purchase hearing aids is just the tip of a massive iceberg, e.g., those without insurance might pay $5-$10 thousand per eye for cataract surgery; $50,000 for total knee replacement; and $30,000 for dialysis.  Little wonder then that health care costs constitute a leading cause of bankruptcy.  A 2015 Huffington Post article indicated, “…According to US bankruptcy court statistics, more than 1.5 million people file for bankruptcy every year.  …A recent Harvard University study showed that medical expenses account for approximately 62 percent of personal bankruptcies in the US…” 

Given the gap between health care expenses and many people’s ability to pay, we again witness the appalling outcomes of approximately 1% of the people controlling 90% or more of the wealth.

 

Jack L. Daniel

Co-Founder, Freed Panther Society

Pittsburgh Urban Media Contributor

March 5, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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