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People Shouldn’t Have To Struggle With Hearing Loss

April 18, 2018 GMT

Hearing loss is among the most common problems that come with age, and it’s not just a matter of turning up the TV volume to 11. Diminished hearing contributes to social isolation and is associated with depression, cognitive decline and dementia in older people. Yet, according to Kaiser Health News, fewer than 20 percent of people with hearing loss ever have used hearing aids. Researchers attribute the reluctance to use hearing aids to stigma, lack of easy access to care and, most of all, cost. “Cost has for many years been the number one problem,” Barbara Kelley, executive director and CEO of the Hearing Loss Association of America told Kaiser. Several developments could help alleviate the cost problem and improve access to care and hearing aids. Last year Congress passed a law allowing the Food and Drug Administration to authorize over-the-counter hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. The agency is in the process of establishing safety and consumer protection standards for such devices. A a new bipartisan Senate bill, introduced in March by Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, addresses part of the cost issue. Medicare usually reimburses audiologists for diagnosing hearing loss, but not to fit and adjust the devices and teach users how to use them to the best effect. That is a significant issue. Studies show that many older people who have hearing aids don’t use them because they don’t know how to fit and adjust them. The bill will be especially important as over-the-counter hearing devices become common. One of the reasons that hearing aids are expensive now is that they often are bundled with service packages. Medicare coverage for technical assistance would enable the devices to be unbundled from the service, reducing cost. It is especially unfortunate that so many people struggle with hearing loss because technology can deal with a large percentage of it. Congress should approve the Warren-Paul bill to ensure the widest possible access to that relief.