Washington, DC— In response to the recent controversy over UnitedHealth Group and subsidiary hi HealthInnovations’ plans to offer a direct-to-consumer online hearing aid, the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) on November 17 issued a statement by HLAA Executive Director Brenda Battat that calls on members to keep an open mind about the company’s approach.

Battat says HLAA members should “take a step back and ask ourselves if this traditional [professional care only] approach is reaching most people who could benefit from hearing aids? We all know the answer is no. With 75 percent of people who could benefit from hearing aids not taking steps to treat their hearing loss, we are failing a large percentage of people who could improve their quality of life, remain independent into old age and stay on the job without retiring early.”

Battat says that consumers need more options in addressing hearing loss and that the hi HealthInnovations approach is new and untried. She says a lot hinges on how effectively the “triage” developed by the company works in providing testing, selection, and fitting relative to the open-ear devices.  However, she believes that consumers should be the ultimate judges of the product and system’s worth. States Battat:

“There are already self administered tests that we know consumers are using in the privacy of their homes to confirm what they suspect, that they have a hearing loss. But the next step to follow up with a more thorough hearing evaluation is often skipped or, if pursued, is stymied when they learn what a pair of hearing aids is going to cost them. Best intentions are shot down. The number one inquiry into the HLAA office is how to afford hearing aids. UnitedHealthcare is making it feasible for consumers to go all the way and actually get aids for free or at reasonable co-pays or cost.”

She further says that HLAA’s primary concern relative to the hi HealthInnovations device is consumer safety. However, she points out that UnitedHealth has a robust network of health care professionals and is developing new modalities for those consumers who need special and/or more individualized care. “The program has been designed as a responsible alternative that in no way replaces the existing system but has the potential to reach those who wouldn’t otherwise do anything or could not afford to do anything to treat their hearing loss,” states Battat. “I think we should give it a chance and applaud UnitedHealthcare for identifying a pressing health need among America’s seniors and being bold enough to tackle it.”

The full statement by Battat can be viewed here.

Recent letters from the International Hearing Society, Academy of Doctors of Audiology, and American Academy of Audiology, as well as viewpoints expressed by the American Speech Language Association and several state hearing-related organizations, have been highly critical of hi HealthInnovations’ plans to market a direct-to-consumer online hearing device. Additionally, the American Medical Association published an article on its news Web site, amednews.com, that contained quotes from doctors who were critical of the company’s plans and raised concerns about decreasing the quality of hearing health care for patients and the chance for misdiagnosis.

An article by Dianne Van Tasell, PhD, will be featured in the January edition of The Hearing Review that describes the reliability and accuracy of the prescribed gain fitting method used by hi HealthInnovations.

Related Articles:

UnitedHealth Enters Hearing Market: HR Interviews hi HealthInnovations CEO Lisa Tseng, MD. October 11 HR Online News.

BHI Issues Consumer Warning About DIY Hearing Care, October 21 HR Online News.