Janice S. Lintz became a passionate advocate for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing after doctors diagnosed her two-and-half-year-old daughter with hearing loss.
“We were immediately told everything she could not do, ” she recalled. “That was not going to be my life so I decided to change the world.”
Perhaps because the mom of two, lawyer and litigator, lives in cultural capital New York City, she set out to begin to improve the cultural experience for her daughter and others.
She successfully pushed for enhanced sound amplification in theaters and cultural arenas, as well as government agencies and businesses, to help people who use hearing aids and cochlear implants.
The system, which became an international standard, uses an electromagnetic coil that wirelessly transmits sound to hearing aids and implants.
Her daughter is now twenty and a junior in college. But Janice worries about what will happen much later in her daughter’s life and again aimed her advocacy to benefit millions.
It may surprise Baby Boomers to learn that Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids.
MEDICARE SHOULD COVER HEARING AIDS
by Janice S. Lintz
Hearing loss is one of the most misunderstood disabilities, and because it is invisible, it is frequently overlooked, neglected and forgotten. Many assume it doesn’t require any special attention or services even though it interferes with virtually every aspect of a person’s life.
I think most people find it shocking when they learn hearing aids are not covered by Medicare or by most insurance policies.
This is particularly disturbing because of the huge number of people who suffer from hearing loss. A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University suggests that 48 million Americans have some form of hearing loss. Many cannot afford to buy hearing aids.
The negative impact is significant.
Hearing aids help people to function better in all aspects of their lives. They allow you to get and keep a job. People with severe hearing loss who didn’t have hearing aids had unemployment rates of 15.6 percent, or double that of the general population (7.8 percent), according to the Johns Hopkins study.
Hearing aids also prevent communication issues and isolation. A person who cannot hear has difficulty communicating and understanding what’s going on. A growing body of research shows that untreated hearing loss in older adults can lead to cognitive decline, isolation, depression and possibly even dementia
Social situations are particularly difficult for many people with hearing loss. When they cannot hear well enough to understand a conversation, or listen to a TV show or other entertainment, they resort to bluffing and withdrawal.
Having access to hearing aids enables people with hearing loss to participate fully in life.
Despite these findings, only 25 percent of people who could benefit from hearings aids get them. It’s true that many think there’s a stigma associated with wearing hearing aids. But many more simply can’t afford them.
A pair of hearing aids costs upwards of $7,000. Hearing aids are absent from the Essential Health Benefits (EHB) outline in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), leaving coverage solely to the discretion of state health insurance plans. As a result, hearing aid coverage varies dramatically by state.
Some states, such as Arizona, cover hearing aids and others do not. New Jersey covers hearing aids for children up to fifteen . Any insurance plan that is self-funded can opt out even if the state mandates hearing aid coverage. This would not be possible if hearing aids were mandated under the Affordable Care Act. All plans across the U.S. would need to uniformly offer the same coverage in every state.
The ACA requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to take into account the health care needs of specific groups, including people with disabilities. But hearing aids fall by the wayside.
We need Congress to rectify this and ensure coverage of properly fitted hearing aids and aural rehabilitation services as part of the Essential Health Benefits under the Affordable Care Act.
Democratic Congressman Cartwright from Erie, Pennsylvania, introduced HR 3150 to cover hearing aids under Medicare. This bill will at least close the loophole for Medicare recipients.
SIGN THE PETITION
Sign our petition to get this bill passed.
Please contact your Congress member and urge him or her to support this bill.
Janice Lintz is CEO of Hearing Access & Innovations