Why Hearing Aids Should Be Covered by Health Insurance

hearing aid used by an old man
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One of the biggest complaints that both deaf and hard of hearing people share is the high cost of hearing aids. Hearing-impaired people whose hearing losses are not severe enough for cochlear implants must use hearing aids. The problem is, hearing aids are not usually covered by health insurance plans while cochlear implants are.

A cochlear implant is considered a prosthesis by private insurance companies, but hearing aids are not. For example, the Cigna healthcare document Coverage Position Number 0190: Cochlear and Auditory Brainstem Implants (revised 5/15/2007) states, "The cochlear implant is an electronic prosthesis that stimulates cells of the auditory spiral ganglion to provide a sense of sound to persons with hearing impairment." At the same time, Cigna Coverage Position Number 0093: Hearing Aids (revised 5/15/2007) states, "Hearing aids are specifically excluded under most CIGNA HealthCare benefit plans."

Medicare also does not cover hearing aids (to view Medicare's full statement on non-coverage of routine hearing exams and hearing aids, go to Medicare.gov's Coverage Page).

Why Hearing Aids Are Not Covered

One reason hearing aids are not covered is because of sheer numbers. There are more hard of hearing people than deaf people who can benefit from cochlear implants. People may lose their hearing as they age and need hearing aids. Things could change because of cochlear implant technology improvements allowing hard of hearing people to use implants.

Many Unable to Afford Hearing Aids

The problem is that our hearing aids can be quite expensive. An array of hearing aids are available today, and the better-performing ones are the most expensive. Every now and then, someone emails me asking for help getting hearing aids for themselves or for a child. I have met parents of hard of hearing children who are bitter about the fact that cochlear implants are often covered by insurance while hearing aids are not.

Senior Citizens Without Hearing Aids

A May 1999 National Council on the Aging survey of seniors showed that 55% cited cost as a reason for not using hearing aids. This survey also found that untreated hearing loss has "serious emotional and social consequences."

Limited Help for Hearing Aids

Nonprofits and some service organizations (such as the Lions Clubs) help people, especially children, obtain hearing aids. There are also hearing aid banks for used hearing aids.

Basic analog hearing aids have also become more affordable as the technology wanes, but many people whose hearing losses require the advanced technology of more expensive hearing aids can not afford them. Some people have turned to the Internet to buy new and used hearing aids at their own risk.

My View on Hearing Aid Costs

Deaf and hard of hearing people, as well as parents of deaf and hard of hearing children, should not have to turn to charitable organizations for a basic device that is so essential to functioning. If cochlear implants are covered by insurance, hearing aids should be, too. A cochlear implant is essentially a surgically implanted hearing aid. While a cochlear implant functions differently than a hearing aid, both cochlear implants and hearing aids serve a similar purpose—helping their users hear. Manufacturers have a right to recoup their research and development costs, but hearing aids need to be priced more reasonably.

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  1. Mitchell RE. How many deaf people are there in the United States? Estimates from the Survey of Income and Program Participation. J Deaf Stud Deaf Educ. 2006;11(1):112-9. doi:10.1093/deafed/enj004