Considering the correlation between aging and hearing loss, it’s a truly unfortunate case that hearing exams and devices are not covered by the Medicare coverage so many older people rely on. Thankfully, hearing health has recently gained more prominence in the public’s eye, and some government officials are beginning to get the picture.
With Medicare specifically, a part of the problem has been that, while it has extensive coverage of any necessary services provided by physicians, audiologists have not been classified as physicians by Medicare. So, their services weren’t covered.
Under the current rules, hearing exams are only covered when ordered by a physician. Even then, diagnostic hearing and balance exams are covered under Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance), which means that the patient is responsible for 20% of the Medicare-approved amount, and that Medicare Part B deductibles apply.
The Audiology Patient Choice Act of 2018, sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rand Paul of Kentucky, attempts to solve that problem by expanding the definition of “physician,” for purposes of the Medicare program, to include an audiologist with respect to the furnishing of audiology services. Whereas before a patient would have needed a referral from his or her doctor in order to visit the audiologist, this will no longer be needed, helping to save patients both time and money on the way to healthier hearing. The bill is currently being discussed on the floor of the Senate, and has a fair chance of passing.
If it doesn’t happen this year, it’s likely it will pass over the next few years because everyone is becoming more aware of the importance of hearing health, which is not just a quality of life issue, but a physical health issue.
It’s important to note that this bill will only impact the costs of the hearing exam. It offers no coverage for the actual hearing aids once your audiologist finds out that you need them. However, considering that there is currently no coverage whatsoever, covering the hearing exams is an important first step. Currently, only a fraction of those with hearing loss ever come in for a diagnosis.
More information, including the progress on the bill, is available here. And, if this issue is important to you, (let’s face it, it should be for everyone), you should write to your senator and representatives and tell them to support bill S.2572!