US Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (MI-12), vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus Seniors Task Force, introduced the Medicare Hearing Aid Coverage Act of 2017 that would expand Medicare to cover hearing aids for beneficiaries, Dingell announced on her website. Hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic condition in the United States according to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), but many seniors who need hearing aids do not get them because they cannot afford the high cost, according to the announcement. Medicare does not currently cover hearing aids, which can range in cost from $3,000 – $7,000.

“Medicare provides critical health coverage to millions of beneficiaries, but there are serious gaps in coverage that exist,” said Dingell. “Today an estimated 70 percent of Americans with hearing problems between the ages of 65 and 84 are not using hearing aids, often because they cannot afford them. This can lead to isolation, depression, and as a growing number of studies have documented, the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia. This legislation would address this issue by improving access to hearing aids and examinations. No one should feel isolated, confused or shut out from the world because they cannot afford the treatment they need.”

“Aging is not a process which is limited to below the neck,” said Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “There are a lot of changes which can occur in the region of the head that may adversely impact an older person’s ability to maintain their independence and dignity. Hearing loss is one of those changes. Yet, for the average senior, affording hearing assessments and devices is out of reach due to the high costs. Without access, they are at risk for early onset dementia, loneliness, isolation, and personal safety hazards. Representative Dingell’s Medicare Hearing Aid Coverage Act of 2017 is a smart solution towards closing a gap in Medicare coverage that opens up possibilities for wellness with hearing impaired seniors.”

Hearing loss affects nearly 48 million Americans and, left untreated, has serious emotional, social, and medical consequences for older adults, according to HLAA. Research has shown older adults with hearing loss are 32 percent more likely to require hospitalization according to the Better Hearing Institute (BHI), and, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicinemay face a 24 percent increased risk for cognitive impairment.

A 10-year longitudinal 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.

According to the announcement, one of Dingell’s top priorities is bringing the nation’s long-term care system into the 21st century. The Medicare Hearing Aid Coverage Act reportedly addresses one piece of the puzzle by improving access to hearing aids and related examinations. The bill also directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study on insurance programs that provide services to help with hearing loss.

The Medicare Hearing Aid Coverage Act is cosponsored by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Doris Matsui (CA-06), Betty McCollum (MN-04), Kathleen Rice (NY-04), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), and Louise Slaughter (NY-25).

Source: US Representative Debbie Dingell (MI-12)

Image: US Representative Debbie Dingell (MI-12) website