Medicare does not cover hearing aids. But, more than 20 million people with Medicare suffer from hearing loss. Most of them cannot afford to go to the audiologist and buy hearing aids out of pocket. Will over-the-counter hearing aids help people with Medicare?
Janice Neumann reports for the Washington Post that, today, only about one in four people with Medicare who need hearing aids use them. Hearing aids tend to be super expensive–typically between $1,500 and $7,000. So, low-cost hearing aids that do not require a prescription, much like low-cost reading glasses, should allow millions of older people to hear better.
The good news: Congress passed a law in 2017, the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, that will regulate personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) and allow them to be sold over the counter, without a prescription from an audiologist. They are designed for people with mild to moderate hearing loss, not people with severe hearing loss.
The bad news: If people do not get their hearing aids fitted, they are less likely to hear well with them. But, Medicare will not pay for a hearing test from the audiologist or for the audiologist to fit the PSAP. The cost of the test and fitting could be several hundred dollars, more than what many people are able to spend.
Under the new law, the PSAPs must be programmable. But, it is unclear what that means or whether that applies simply to volume. Time will tell how well the PSAPs will work for people.
Medicare should cover the full range of hearing aids people need, along with the testing and fitting. Without hearing aids, people who struggle to hear are at greater risk of cognitive decline, depression and dementia. They also are at greater risk of falls.
For now, take advantage of Medicare’s annual wellness benefit to have your hearing checked. At the very least, your doctor can let you know whether you would benefit from a hearing aid. And, if you also have Medicaid, see whether Medicaid covers hearing aids in your state. It sometimes does.
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