Millions of Americans are cut out of one critical health need for the worst reason of all – money. Hearing loss affects about 30 million Americans to different degrees. It is more common as people get older. And yet there’s a gap in health care options: Medicare does not cover the problem.
And hearing aids are tremendously expensive: $4,700 for a pair including all the associated services. Absent Medicare coverage, people have to pay it out of pocket, and few can write a check, or even look at hefty payment plans, for that kind of money. Private insurance coverage also is uneven and unpredictable.
The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is sounding the alarms about the problem, even though the solutions, or partial solutions, should be obvious and attainable.
One, Medicare should be expanded to cover hearing loss. Two, private insurers should step up with plans of their own. Three, rules governing the sale of hearing aids should be revised. The industry doubtless wants to protect itself, but the simplest hearing aids should be sold over the counter at drugstores.
There’s not that much difference, really, between what would be over-the-counter devices and the reading glasses millions of people buy from drugstores for a fraction of what they’d pay for a prescription from an eye doctor. In fact, many eye doctors tell patients to buy such glasses, if they don’t have other complicating medical problems.
Absent correction, scientists say hearing loss can increase the risk for dementia, for falling, for depression. It’s simply unacceptable for millions of people to go without help.