In his later years, my grandfather was unable to hear properly without the assistance of a hearing aid in each ear. However, as often may be the case, his loved ones and caretakers would often drop them on the floor while attempting to clean them, often with disastrous results. My grandmother would attempt to salvage the cracked or broken devices by bringing them to a local hearing aid specialist. More often than not, they would need to be replaced with new ones. Fortunately, my grandfather had health coverage through the Department of Veteran Affairs and Medicare which helped when these untimely events occurred. Do you have the right hearing aid insurance?
Hearing impairment doesn’t just affect the elderly. Two out of every 10 children suffer from a hearing, speech, or language disorder. Dee Naquin Shafer tells the story of little Jake Mackey and his mother Angel Mackey and their experience with hearing loss and the insurance industry.
“…after Jake failed several other hearing tests, [Angel] Mackey brought him to Dupont Hospital in Wilmington, DE. An audiologist there found that Jake had a moderate sensorineural hearing loss. It turned out that he was making up for problems in communicating by lip-reading […]
‘It caught me off guard when the audiologist started talking about hearing aids,’ [Angel] Mackey said. She was even more surprised after calling the insurance company and learning that neither hearing aids nor tests were covered.
‘The more I thought about it, the more it seemed ridiculous. (Insurance) pays to have a lot of other things done,’ Mackey said […]
‘My husband and I are nurses and we could have worked overtime to cover the hearing aids, but it bothered me that the hearing of a 5-year-old child wasn’t considered important,’ she said. The insurance company made an exception in its policy for Jake’s case and decided to pay for his hearing aids.”
Angel and her husband were lucky that their insurance company was able to “bend the rules” in order to help them with payments. My grandfather was also lucky to have coverage, considering how expensive the devices can be. They can range from $1,000-$6,000 per hearing aid, per ear. That can be upwards of $12,000 just to be able to hear those around you. And you better not break one.
Prices are on the rise, too.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 37 million people in the United States suffer from hearing loss. That’s over 10 percent of the population, and that number will continue to grow as the Baby Boomer population ages. Add to that fact that almost one in five Americans over the age of 12 has some form of hearing loss in at least one ear. Unfortunately, many of these people are unable to fully appreciate the sounds around them because they don’t know whom to turn to for coverage. Almost 75-80% of adults with hearing loss don’t have hearing aids.
Without the proper insurance, these Americans suffer with insufficient hearing abilities. Washington Times writer, Laura Sensana, has a personal experience with the heartbreak of being unable to purchase a hearing device due to lack of coverage. She states,
“I have a personal connection to this story, as my stepfather is hearing impaired. I have witnessed his struggle with progressive hearing loss and – what seems more unfair- his struggle with his insurance company to get hearing aids. A formerly a gregarious, hungry for life, world traveler, he has slowly withdrawn and isolated himself, mostly because of his hearing loss and inability to get his hearing aids (which he paid for without help from insurance) adjusted and replaced every three to five years as recommended.”
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association lists twenty states which currently require that heath care plans include payment for hearing aids. These include: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island. Most of these are only coverage for children and only three have some coverage for adults. The requirements vary by state based on:
- Amount of coverage
- Benefit period
- Provider qualifications
The following are examples of state provisions:
- Connecticut: $1,000 in coverage every 2 years for children 12 years and younger.
- Minnesota: One hearing aid per ear every 36 months (no cap on cost) for children 18 years and younger.
- New Jersey: $1,000 per hearing aid every 24 months for children 15 years and younger.
Often, if you do have coverage, it’s only for the test to assess your hearing loss, not for the actual device. In a CNN article, Jen Christensen writes, “Hearing aids are considered elective, much like plastic surgery or liposuction. But unlike those cosmetic procedures, life without hearing can have devastating effects. It can leave people feeling isolated or depressed and may even lead to serious illnesses like dementia. It can put their safety at risk.”
Consumer Reports conducted a six-month long study in which they followed a dozen patients as they shopped for hearing aid insurance. They also had a national survey in which they interviewed 1,100 people who had purchased a hearing aid in the last three years. They determined that there were a lot of pitfalls to navigating this confusing industry. Consumers faced several challenges such as high prices, improper fitting, and lack of information. So, what options are out there for coverage?
Fortunately, the policy options have been on the increase over the last few decades. Dr. Sergei Kochkin conducted a study of 3,174 hearing aid users to understand financial assistance through third-party insurance for purchasing hearing aids. Funding has increased from 24 to 40 percent between the years 1989 and 2008. So, though a majority of hearing aid users still need to pay out of pocket, the trend is encouraging.
Kochkin determined that insurance payments came from a variety of different sources. The Veterans Administration and private health insurance were the largest providers of financial support. Others included Medicaid, HMOs, and charities.
Those enrolled in VA benefits may be eligible for hearing aid services and devices if the hearing loss occurred while in military service or because of an ear-related disease. Other factors, like income, are also considered. Needless to say, the VA is the largest purchaser and provider of hearing devices in the United States today.
This government insurance for those aged 65 and older covers the cost of hearing aids, but only if the hearing loss is due to disease or injury. The Medicare Part B plan covers a diagnostic exam if recommended by your doctor.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Early detection and intervention through this government act can cover some audiology services. Assistance is provided to children through their local school or health department. These benefits are either covered under their parent’s employment coverage or through the IDEA.
Federal Employee Hearing Aid Insurance
If you are a current or retired federal employee or a member of the family, you have coverage through the Federal Employee Hearing Aid Insurance since it began in 2009.
Check the list above to see if you live in a state that mandates health care insurers provide coverage for you or your loved one.
There are many options that may be available to you through private and employee-benefit insurance plans. A comprehensive plan may be the ideal option, as it covers a variety of services for hearing and hearing-related issues such as speech and language. Having a hearing-related disability involves a variety of expenses that you may not realize. Having comprehensive coverage can be beneficial in a variety of different ways, including:
- Speech/language pathologist services
- Payment for devices such as: hearing aids, amplification units, and cochlear implants
- Therapy sessions
- Hearing tests and treatments
- Audiologist visits
Check with your individual insurance agent, as there may be some limitations to your benefits, such as:
- Maximum number of therapy visits
- Maximum yearly benefit allowances
- Physician statement of support for hearing treatments
- Out-of-network provider limitations
Healthy Hearing, a website for hearing loss information, cites three real-life examples for what private insurance can do to help you with payment.
- The private insurance plan may provide you with a set amount of funding to assist in your purchase of hearing aids, such as $1,000. This amount may be per purchase or per ear, depending upon their restrictions. You would then be allowed to purchase a new device every 3 to 5 years.
- The private health insurance may provide you with a set amount of funding if you purchase from a contracted provider. For example, your allowance may be $1,500 towards a $4,000 device. This may also be renewed every few years.
- The plan may have set discounts with a contracted provider, like 20 percent off the purchase price. This way, a $2,000 device would cost $1,600.
Each health insurance plan may be different, so make sure you understand the fine print of your coverage.
Don’t wait! Adding hearing benefits to your existing health insurance plan can have many benefits as well:
- Prepare for potential costly illnesses and avoid costly claims.
- Adding supplemental services to existing support systems for children with hearing loss.
- Retain high productivity in your job and communication skills in life.
So what can be done to make sure you’re covered in the event of a lost, stolen, or broken hearing aid?
Typically, new hearing aids come with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty. Sometimes, this length of coverage can be even longer for an additional cost. However, the average life of a hearing aid is 6 years, meaning you need additional protection.
Most homeowners insurance policies will cover your hearing aids if they are lost or broken as they are considered part of your personal property coverage. Often you’ll need to purchase an additional “rider” to cover the devices. You may still have to pay a deductible as part of the replacement costs. Homeowners insurance extends beyond the boundaries of your home, so if you lose or break your hearing aid while traveling overseas, they will be covered. The following incidents may or may not be covered, depending upon your protection:
- Accidental loss: stolen, dropped into water, misplaced
- Accidental damage: worn in the shower or while swimming, stepped on, chewed on by pet
- Normal wear and tear: earwax or moisture buildup, intermittent sound, static, buzzing, failure, re-fitting
AARP states that unlike a manufacturer’s warranty, private insurance will support you in the event of damage or loss. This may range in cost between $50 and $150, depending upon your hearing aid device. The more technologically advanced the device is, the higher the cost. Purchasing a separate insurance plan can have its own advantages:
- Savings on hearing aids
- Discounts on hearing-aid related products like batteries, microphones, and accessories
- Follow-up care program
- Extended manufacturer warranty
- In-network providers
Talk With Your Insurance Agent
Navigating the world of health insurance policies which include hearing aid benefits can be confusing. Talk with your individual insurance agent about the coverage that fits your needs. Studies have shown that having proper hearing improves your quality of life. In a Consumer Reports study, 73 percent of those surveyed were happy with their decision to purchase a hearing device. One respondent noted, “I’m hearing music sounds I haven’t heard for over 20 years.”
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