Accessibility of hearing aids in the USA



LiveScience recently posted an Expert Voices column on the treatment gap in the area of hearing devices in the USA.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the Affordable Care Act, which aims at putting consumers back in charge of their healthcare, this is unlikely to make a big difference to people in America who need hearing aids. Estimates indicate that 1 in 8 people, or 30 million individuals, aged 12 or older have moderate to severe hearing loss, and incidence of course increases with age.

In his opinion article, Dr. Darius Kohan, head of otology/neurotology at Lenox Hill Hospital and Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital in New York City, says that fewer than 1 in 3 adults aged 70 and older who could benefit from hearing aids has ever used them. The reason for this is partly that the US federal health insurance program for people 65 and over, Medicare, does not cover any of the usual outlay associated with hearing loss. Costs related to routine hearing tests, hearing devices themselves, or fitting of hearing aids are not covered by the system. Even many private health insurance companies do not cover these costs.

Kohan says that the US is lagging behind other advanced nations in this area, particularly in Europe, where many countries have partial coverage. One of the rare exceptions in the US is the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) which is responsible for former military services personnel. The VA covers hearing aids if the person has occupational hearing loss.

Hearing aids are simply too expensive for a large proportion of the population, with devices ranging from USD 1,000 to USD 3,500 per ear, he adds. Importantly, this is not a one-time charge: the devices usually need to be replaced every few years, making the economic impact even higher.