To reduce the cost of hearing aids, Biden must go beyond his proposal

  • President Biden’s recent decision decree aims to address, among other things, the exorbitant costs of hearing aids.
  • Hearing aids cost an average of $ 5,000 and are rarely covered by insurance.
  • Only 14% of the 48 million Americans with hearing loss can afford hearing aids.
  • Over-the-counter hearing aids are not intended for children or people with severe or profound hearing loss.
  • Erin Marsh is a writer and yoga teacher of the Midwest.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

President Biden issued a decree last week to promote competition in the US economy. The order aims to remedy, among other things, the exorbitant costs of hearing aids.

My family knows all too well the exorbitant prices of hearing aids. Our 5 year old daughter Camille and I are both hard of hearing with a rare reverse slope hearing loss, or loss of low frequency. We paid over $ 3,000 for Camille’s hearing aids, none of which were covered by insurance, as hearing aids are considered cosmetic and elective.

We were able to obtain a grant for his FM receiver, which allows him to play sports and to better understand teachers, which represents an additional $ 3,000. His hearing tests – which are required annually by audiologists to adjust their hearing aids – cost just under $ 800, only part of which is covered by our insurance. My own hearing aids would have cost almost $ 5,000 via an audiologist, but I went the cheaper route: Costco hearing aids for around $ 2,000. Our hearing aids should be replaced approximately every 5 years for the duration of our lives.

the Fact sheet published by the White House says the executive order “will save Americans with hearing loss thousands of dollars by allowing over-the-counter hearing aids to be sold at drugstores.”

However, the obama administration tried to make hearing aids more affordable and as easy to buy as reading glasses. Then the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, 2017 promised to effectively reduce costs, but prices remained stable. The White House explains that this is because “the Trump Administration Food and Drug Administration failed to enact the necessary rules that would actually allow hearing aids to be sold over-the-counter, leaving millions of Americans with no options. low cost “. The hope is that the Biden administration can learn from past mistakes to embrace lasting change this time around.

I have probably been hard of hearing since I was born, but I’m only on my second pair of hearing aids due to the cost, and we are a middle class family. I’m not alone: ​​Only 14% about 48 million Americans with hearing loss can afford the high price. On average, hearing aids cost $ 5,000 a pair and are rarely covered by insurance.

My hearing loss has gone undetected for most of my life despite being significant. Low-frequency loss goes largely undiagnosed for two reasons: speech is rarely affected, and basic hearing tests check for high-frequency loss, as it is the most common. Eventually, I failed a school hearing test in elementary school, but my results fell through the cracks and my mother was not alerted to the results until I reached junior high. In the 90s, I was not offered accommodation or placed in an Individualized Education Program (IEP), and my single mom couldn’t afford thousands of dollars in hearing aids. I spent my school years adjusting as best I could.

My first professional job after graduating from college was teaching English in high school in New York City, and I certainly couldn’t afford hearing aids living in one of the most expensive cities in the world with the salary. of a teacher. It wasn’t until I moved to Ohio and heard about financial aid through the Ohio Vocational Rehabilitation Office that I received my first pair in my late twenties. However, I was explicitly told that the program was “one and finished”. I had to pay for my future hearing aids myself.

By the time this couple stopped working, I had become a mother and made the transition to a career as a writer. I couldn’t justify spending thousands of dollars (which we didn’t have) on hearing aids as a writer. I figured I had spent most of my life without hearing aids and was used to them, so I could continue to manage.

But then my daughter was born. She passed the newborn hearing test and her preschool hearing test, but again, they only test for high frequency loss. Despite the interim results, I noticed the telltale signs of the hearing loss – inability to understand unless I was in front of someone, continual stares at our mouths for clarification, blank stares when strangers asked questions – and I took her to an audiologist for a full audiogram hearing test) where they discovered my identical moderately severe reverse slope loss.

As is often the case, the insurance did not cover a penny of his hearing aids. We asked for help through a state hearing program, but we were turned down. We went with the cheapest pair available for kids through our audiologist – $ 3,200 – and are still paying them back almost two years later.

While President Biden’s plan could potentially help millions of Americans, he leaves out many. Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are not intended for children, and they shouldn’t be. It takes a pediatric audiologist to properly fit and adjust a child’s hearing aids. In addition, over-the-counter aids would be available for people with mild to moderate hearing loss, and not for those with severe or profound hearing loss. Whether or not they might work for rare hearing losses, such as cookie bite or reverse slope, is not clear.

The problem with providing over-the-counter hearing aids is that every hearing loss is unique; it really takes a professional to properly fit hearing aids. In my experience, audiologists are unwilling / unable to adjust hearing aids purchased elsewhere, leaving the over-the-counter hearing aid adjustments to the individual. It would be like buying reading glasses at the drugstore. Some may benefit from it, but most of those who need eyeglasses do not.

If the Biden administration could require insurance companies to cover the majority of hearing aid expenses – after all, eyeglasses and braces are covered – then all hearing loss for all ages would be included. Some insurance companies cover some of the expenses, but they are usually minimal, like $ 600 out of the $ 5,000. If the Biden administration could effectively reduce the cost of hearing aids by increasing competition and also requiring insurance coverage, then everyone could benefit. In other wealthy countries, hearing aids are covered – why not here? Right now, the Biden plan is a first step towards improving access for the deaf / hard of hearing community, but is not a comprehensive solution.

Still, any movement to help with the cost of hearing aids is appreciated, and perhaps the most promising part of this decree is the challenge to the monopolies. The four largest hearing aid companies control 84% market, which means they can set the astronomical prices they want. Deregulation could jeopardize their profits, and Starkey Hearing Technologies has responded by increasing their political contributions, expenses After than large medical technology companies.

In a world where a $ 300 watch contains the technological advancements of a phone, how could hearing aids cost an average of $ 5,000? Or what about an audiogram, which is a series of beeps and recordings dictated and transcribed by a computer, for which hospitals shamelessly charge $ 800? However, an identical hearing test at Costco is free.

President Biden’s executive order is a first step in making the world more accessible and inclusive for all deaf and hard of hearing. With increased competition and greater availability, hearing aid prices will hopefully drop. Maybe one day hearing aids will be as common and affordable as a pair of glasses. In the meantime, we’ll have to continue to advocate for basic access to the sounds most people take for granted.

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