Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and colleagues have introduced the bipartisan Medicare Audiology Access Improvement Act. 

The bill would ensure that seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare are able to access a full range of hearing and balance healthcare services provided by licensed audiologists, who are trained and licensed in all 50 states and U.S. territories, including the District of Columbia. 

“Outdated Medicare rules make it difficult for seniors with hearing loss to gain access to the critical services audiologists provide,” Warren says. “I’m glad to be partnering with my colleagues in the Senate to reduce barriers to care and ensure that older Americans and people with disabilities have access to the full range of care they need.” 

The legislation builds on Grassley’s efforts to improve access to over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids.

“I’m proud to have helped improve access to high-quality and affordable hearing aids by shepherding the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids Act through Congress in 2017 and holding the U.S. Food & Drug Administration accountable to implement the law,” Grassley says. “I’ve seen firsthand the importance of accessing audiology services, which is why I’m glad to support this bill to make it easier for seniors and individuals with disabilities to get help from an audiologist.”

Hearing loss affects more than 48 million Americans. Though Medicare already covers a range of hearing health services, Medicare currently does not recognize audiologists as providers and will only allow reimbursement for a narrow set of tests to diagnose a hearing or balance disorder—and only if patients first obtain an order from a physician or nurse practitioner. 

“Our legislation gets government out of the decision-making process so Americans can seek treatment from audiologists more quickly, easily, and affordably,” Paul says. “It proves Congress can come together across the aisle to find solutions to improve our healthcare system.” 

The legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Angus King (I-Maine).

Specifically, the Medicare Audiology Access Improvement Act would:

  • Amend the definition of “audiology services” in the Medicare statute, which specifies the services that audiologists may provide, to include all services already covered by Medicare that are also within an audiologist’s scope of practice;
  • Amend the Medicare definition of practitioner to include audiologists, which improves beneficiary access to audiologic and vestibular care, a change that is consistent with Medicare’s classification of similar healthcare providers such as clinical social workers and clinical psychologists;
  • Make technical changes to remove the pre-treatment order requirement, which does not exist with any other federal or commercial payer; 
  • Ensures seniors and people with disabilities can receive the full scope of audiology services covered by Medicare at Rural Health Centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers; and
  • Make no changes to the scope of hearing health benefits covered by Medicare or the scope of practice of audiologists.

The full text of the bill can be found here

The Medicare Audiology Access Improvement Act is supported by the American Academy of Audiology, Academy of Doctors of Audiology, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and National Association of Rural Health Clinics.“ Advancing this legislation is necessary to remove outdated barriers that prevent older Americans from receiving the hearing health and balance care coverage that they need and deserve,” says American Academy of Audiology President, Virginia Ramachandran, AuD, PhD.  “Treating hearing loss and balance disorders improves an individual’s ability to communicate and connect with loved ones, decreases risk for falls, and results in a greater overall quality of life. Passage of this cost-effective legislation will give patients timely access to the services critical to accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.”