The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed legislation by Rep Lucy McBath (GA-06) and Rep Debbie Dingell (MI-12) to make hearing devices more accessible for Medicare beneficiaries, according to an announcement on McBath’s website. The Medicare Hearing Act of 2019, H.R. 4618, provides coverage for hearing aids and services for seniors under Part B of the Medicare program. Medicare does not currently cover hearing aids, which have an average price of about $2,300 per device.

“America’s seniors deserve access to the affordable health care they need,” said McBath. “Far too many people go without hearing aids because they are too expensive, and I am proud to continue the fight to improve the quality of life of our seniors. We must keep working to lower health care costs, improve quality of care, and protect our seniors.”

“Far too many Americans continue to suffer from hearing loss, which can lead to a sense of isolation and other negative health impacts,” said Dingell. “This important legislation helps seniors with Medicare access coverage for hearing aids and services so they can live healthy, social lives with dignity. We must keep working until this gets signed into law and brings real benefits to many seniors that have hearing loss. I will not stop until our ultimate goal is achieved.”

Hearing loss affects nearly 48 million Americans and, left untreated, has serious emotional, social, and medical consequences for older adults. Research has shown older adults with hearing loss are 32% more likely to require hospitalization, face a 24% increased risk for cognitive impairment, and increasingly suffer from isolation and depression. A 10-year longitudinal Johns Hopkins’ study of patients in Baltimore found that those with hearing loss had a higher probability of developing dementia, with the probability rising as the severity of the hearing loss increased.

H.R. 4618 amends the Social Security Act to cover and improve patient access to doctor visits, hearing tests, and hearing aids. These services and items are currently not covered under the Social Security Act or under Medicare. The average price of a single hearing aid is $2,300, according to a 2015 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) which was based off a 2014 Hearing Review survey of dispenser professionals.

Update: The Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), the American Academy of Audiology (AAA), and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) report that the organizations worked to provide several amendments to this bill and issued a statement in support it. The Medicare Hearing Act of 2019 (H.R. 4618), as amended, enables audiologists to provide both diagnostic and treatment services and reclassifies audiologists as practitioners under Medicare providing better access for seniors. The amended bill also mandates a study to examine beneficiary direct access to audiologists and gives the US Secretary of Health and Human Services authority to allow audiologists to furnish services without requiring beneficiaries to first obtain a physician order. In light of the amendments now included in H.R. 4618, the revised bill was endorsed by ADA, AAA, and ASHA, and now awaits consideration by the full House of Representatives.

Source: Rep Lucy McBath