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Action is needed for the 30 million Americans affected by hearing loss

Access a recording of the briefing at: https://cc.readytalk.com/registration/#/?meeting=sfxfevabid3j&campaign=cslq7e4xvr5g

June 23, 2016 – WASHINGTON – In a noon-time briefing, health and advocacy experts urged policymakers to update Medicare to cover hearing services. Hearing loss affects nearly 30 million Americans, but only 1 in 5 people diagnosed with hearing issues have hearing aids – in large part because Medicare currently excludes coverage for hearing aids and related audiology services.

A June 2016 Report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine established hearing loss as a significant public health priority. Even mild hearing loss has been shown to double the risk of dementia. Further, hearing loss is directly related to a variety of cognitive impairments, isolation, depression, and increased risk for falls.

“People sometimes think of hearing loss as an inevitable part of aging. But the last five years of research say this is not the case. Hearing loss is one of the few modifiable factors to reduce dementia,” said Frank R. Lin, M.D., Ph.D, a co-author of the National Academies’ Report, Hearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability. “Our research has established causation – not just correlation – between hearing loss and brain atrophy.”

Two national health advocacy organizations, the Center for Medicare Advocacy and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, have endorsed recent Congressional bills that would allow Medicare to cover audiology services and hearing aids: the Medicare Hearing Aid Coverage Act of 2015 (H.R. 1653) introduced by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and the Medicare Dental, Vision, and Hearing Benefit Act of 2016 (H.R. 5396) introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA).

“When you can’t hear, you feel totally isolated,” said Rep. McDermott at the briefing. “Simply keeping seniors alive is not enough. We must restore their quality of life.”

“Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent medical conditions for older Americans,” said Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D – Conn.), who is co-sponsoring the McDermott bill. “Hearing makes such a big difference in a person’s life. It can’t be overstated. Why have we arbitrarily removed the head from the body in our Medicare coverage?”

“Since its implementation in 1965, Medicare has enhanced health care for millions of Americans. But there are still major gaps in coverage. Given the growing numbers of older Americans who suffer from hearing loss, it’s time for that to change,” said Judith Stein, J.D., Executive Director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy.

“Ten-thousand Americans are becoming Medicare eligible each day. Congress needs to recognize that we have a retirement security crisis in our country and health care costs pose a significant challenge to seniors who receive an average monthly Social Security check of $1,340. Older Americans on modest, fixed incomes simply cannot afford to pay out of pocket for hearing devices which can cost thousands of dollars,” said Max Richtman, President/CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “Seniors should not be forced to go without needed hearing care.”

In their closing remarks, speakers described how Medicare could reduce the high cost of hearing aids, which currently range from $4,000 – $5,000. “If Congress adds hearing aid coverage to Medicare, millions of potential customers could help bring the costs down,” said Ms. Stein.

“For some Americans, a hearing aid is their third largest expense – after their house and car,” said Dr. Lin. “But if we bring in more manufacturers, that could dramatically lower costs. We believe hearing aids could become a high volume, low margin device.”

To take action on this issue, visit: http://org.salsalabs.com/o/777/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=19960

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Report
Hearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability
http://nationalacademies.org/hmd/reports/2016/Hearing-Health-Care-for-Adults.aspx

Additional resources from The Center for Medicare Advocacy
https://cc.readytalk.com/registration/#/?meeting=sfxfevabid3j&campaign=cslq7e4xvr5g http://www.medicareadvocacy.org/time-for-medicare-to-cover-audiology-care
http://www.medicareadvocacy.org/rep-dingell-calls-for-medicare-coverage-of-hearing-aids

Additional resources from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation
The Case for Expanding Medicare/Hearing Loss: The Economic, Social and Medical Factors Impacting Healthy Aging (July 2015)

http://www.ncpssmfoundation.org/Portals/0/case-for-expanding-medicare.pdf


Contact:

Maria Myotte
DG+CO
720-352-6153
mmyotte@douglasgould.com

The Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc., established in 1986, is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan law organization that provides education, advocacy and legal assistance to help older people and people with disabilities obtain fair access to Medicare and quality health care. We focus on the needs of Medicare beneficiaries, people with chronic conditions, and those in need of long-term care. The organization is involved in writing, education, and advocacy activities of importance to Medicare beneficiaries nationwide. The Center is headquartered in Connecticut and Washington, DC, with offices throughout the country.

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, acts in the interests of its membership through advocacy, education, services, grassroots efforts and the leadership of the Board of Directors and professional staff. The work of the National Committee is directed toward developing better-informed citizens and voters.

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