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The Medicare program has excluded coverage for hearing aids and related audiology services since its implementation in 1965, despite documented risks associated with untreated hearing loss and links to other chronic conditions. While the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 will soon allow access to hearing aids for mild-to-moderate hearing loss without the services of an audiologist or hearing aid dispenser, a recent Health Affairs study suggests that ongoing socio-economic barriers may limit the use of vital hearing care services, such as fittings and counseling.

In “Access to Hearing Care Services Among Older Medicare Beneficiaries Using Hearing Aids,” the study’s authors find that older adults dually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid had “41 percent lower odds of using hearing care services and were twice as likely to report having a lot of trouble hearing with their aids, compared to high-income Medicare beneficiaries.” Because of such findings, the authors note that beneficiaries with lower incomes may forgo hearing care services that traditionally come with the purchase of hearing aids and “will be more likely to experience continued difficulty with hearing loss.”

The study proposes two policy solutions to address the barrier to hearing care services. First, hearing care services could be included in the “mandatory benefits provided by state Medicaid programs.” Second, Congress could remove the Medicare coverage exclusion. The study advocates that the latter change is the most appropriate option because “barriers to hearing care services and poor hearing outcomes are not limited to people dually eligible for Medicaid…”

January 10, 2019 – D. Valanejad

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