Medicare and Hearing Aids
Original Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids for people diagnosed with hearing loss, although it’s possible that some seniors have hearing aid coverage through Medicare Part C. This is an important question for seniors, as hearing loss is common among older adults. Around a third of people between the ages of 65 and 74 experience hearing loss, and that number rises to half of people aged 75 or older.
Wearing hearing aids can help counteract the problems of untreated hearing loss. Hearing aids allow seniors to communicate with friends, family and people in the community. This lessens social isolation and depression and can help individuals stay independent and age in place. Hearing aids can also help offset mobility and balance issues, leading to a decrease in the risk of falls and fewer hospitalizations. Recent research by Johns Hopkins links hearing loss to cognitive decline, and hearing aids may help slow or prevent the onset of dementia.
Considering the benefits, it’s important for seniors to find the best hearing aids for their situation, as well as affordable ways to access the technology.
When Does Medicare Cover Hearing Treatment?
Original Medicare is made up of two parts, known as Part A and Part B. Part A is hospital coverage and doesn’t cover any regular hearing treatment. Part B covers medically necessary services and services that help prevent illness or catch conditions at an early stage. Medicare Part B may cover a diagnostic hearing and balance exam if it’s been ordered by a doctor. It doesn’t cover a regular hearing exam, hearing aids or exams for fitting hearing aids.
Seniors who have Medicare Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage, may be covered for hearing exams or hearing aids. Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private companies that have been approved by Medicare. They must provide everything that’s included in Part A and B but can also cover extras. One of these extras may include hearing care; however, it’s not a common inclusion. It’s a good idea to consider coverage of hearing exams and hearing aids when choosing a Medicare Advantage plan. Seniors who are already enrolled can call their provider and ask if hearing aid coverage is included.
How Can Seniors Access Affordable Hearing Aids?
According to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the average cost of a hearing aid was $2,400 in 2015. This is the cost per ear, and the cost may have risen in the intervening years. The high cost means that many people who would benefit from hearing aids choose to go without. However, there are options for seniors looking for affordable hearing aids.
Seniors who served in the military and are receiving health care benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs may have hearing aids covered through that program. Some states also provide hearing exams and hearing aids through their Medicaid programs. This coverage can come through regular Medicaid or waiver programs. Waiver programs are often aimed at helping seniors age in place and include medical devices or assistive technology as one of the benefits.
A final government program that may help is an assistive technology program. These state programs provide information and assistance to help access assistive technology, including hearing aids. Although it’s unlikely programs will offer free hearing aids, many allow people to borrow technology for a short time or assist people in finding low-cost, refurbished aids. Some states also have low-interest loans to help people purchase assistive technology.
Seniors can contact hearing aid manufacturers to see if they provide any programs for low-income people. Some manufacturers offer free hearing aids in exchange for being in a clinical trial; however, this is rare.
Seniors with a private insurance policy may have hearing aids and exams covered. Coverage is rare, and often policies only cover one pair of hearing aids in a lifetime. In Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, private insurers are required to offer hearing aid coverage.
A number of national groups and foundations focus on hearing care in the United States. These groups help people of all ages get free hearing aids. Depending on the organization, there may be an application fee, so people should check the eligibility criteria before applying. Some organizations seniors can check with include the Miracle-Ear Foundation, Starkey Hearing Foundation and Hearing Aid Project.
Some senior associations, such as the AARP, may offer members discounts on hearing aids. Many local Lions Clubs also have projects aimed at providing low-cost hearing aids in partnership with Lions Clubs International’s Affordable Hearing Aid Project. Seniors can contact their local chapter to see if the program is available in their area.