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Hearing loss coverage could get major boost in upcoming spending bill

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Posted at 1:33 PM, Sep 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-13 19:56:31-04

WASHINGTON — Millions of Americans struggle with hearing problems each year, and it’s something that statistically gets worse as you age.

For the most part, the government has stayed out of providing and funding hearing aids for minor hearing loss.

That could soon change.

The issue

“I was actually diagnosed with a hearing loss in my early twenties," Hillary Cohen said.

Cohen isn't alone.

One in eight people in this country over the age of 12 suffers from hearing loss in both ears.

Nearly 50% of those 75 and older have disabling hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication.

As a result, Cohen wears hearing aids.

But she says there's a problem: Medicare does not cover hearing loss in most cases, and millions of older Americans don’t get help with their hearing as a result.

“The best thing about turning 65 was having Medicare, except for the hearing aids," she said.

Cohen says the out-of-pocket cost of these devices adds up because hearings aids can cost thousands of dollars.

“I've talked to so many people that decide not to get the hearing aids because they are just too expensive,” Cohen said.

Congress stepping in

Lawmakers have talked about what’s covered under Medicare for years, but with not much success.

However, for the moment, there is optimism this year will change that. Democrats have included hearing loss converge under Medicare in their massive multi-trillion spending proposal.

It would cost $300 billion over 10 years, with that estimate including covering dental and vision for the first time, too.

Democrats want to raise taxes on higher-income earners to pay for it.

History of not covering

“When Medicare came to be many years ago lawmakers said, 'Uh, it really isn’t that important,'” said Dr. Frank Lin, the director of the Cochlear Center for Hearing & Public Health at Johns Hopkins.

He says the reason hearing isn’t covered right now is that when Medicare was created in the 1960s, hearing loss wasn’t seen as a big deal. It is now.

Linn is leading a studying attempting to connect hearing loss with dementia and overall health care costs.

“It’s an incredibly important study,” Linn said.

Will it happen?

Questions remain whether this will actually become law.

Many moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill are growing uneasy at the prospect of spending more government money, and Republicans are poised to unanimously vote against any major spending bills over fears of inflation.

Regardless of whether hearing loss gets covered soon, major changes involving hearing are set to take place in the coming months when hearing aids are expected to be available for purchase over-the-counter for the first time.

As for Cohen, she offered a bit of advice for anyone thinking of getting help.

“It will change your life,” Cohen said.