HLAA’s Continued Fight for Hearing Aid Coverage

For some time now, I have been learning more about hearing aid coverage, a controversial topic that I am interested in, especially since it has been coming up in several instances through HLAA at the national and community level.  I want to share with our readers some of the things that HLAA has been doing to help bring more awareness to this issue. Also, to share what resources are available for us to use to help lessen the financial repercussions that come from paying for services related to your hearing health and/or from the purchase of a hearing aid or aids.

As many of you may already know, HLAA continues to be an avid fighter for hearing aid coverage – to get hearing aid benefits and hearing aids covered by insurance providers. Thus, I would like to highlight a few things about what HLAA and our community has been doing to advocate for hearing aid coverage.  One way to stay on top of what HLAA is doing to advocate for hearing aid coverage/benefits at the national level, you can watch for the latest news here.

In our Community: Recently, a public forum on Medicaid Reform took place on August 17th, 2011 in Overland Park and one topic that came up at the forum was insurance coverage for hearing aids.  This was the final meeting, with interpreters presented so that the deaf and hard of hearing people of Kansas could participate.  Governor Sam Brownback asked Lt. Governor Jeff Coyler help remake the state’s Medicaid program and improve healthcare.   So in an effort to improve the program, Coyler asked the people of Kansas to share their ideas and suggestions.  The D/HH community brought up several issues that they wished to see addressed during the year.  An issue focused on by the D/HH, and particularly with HLAA, was to see more insurance coverage for hearing aids.  Currently, the problem is while cochlear implants are often covered by insurance, hearing aids lack the support.

At National Level:  HLAA has been pushing for insurance coverage on hearing aids as part of federal health plans.  As of now, coverage of hearing aids for adults is included in several Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) insurance plans but is not a requirement for other insurers, especially for private ones.  The next step is to watch for other carriers to begin coverage on hearing aids.  Since the FEHB program is a leading model in insurance, there is hope that other insurance companies will follow.  The good news is that there are several states that require health benefit plans include coverage of hearing aids for children.  Unfortunately, only a few states require hearing aid coverage for adults.  Each state has varying requirements for the amount and ages covered.

To see if your state is covered, check the ‘State Hearing Health Insurance Mandates’ list.  Missouri made the list. Unfortunately, Kansas is not on the list yet.  However, with the recent Medicaid Reform public reform that took place in August 2011 in Overland Park, Kansas’s outlook looks more positive.  After all, to date, eighteen states have passed legislation on coverage for hearing aids, so more states are sure to add insurance for them in health benefit plans.

My Thoughts… & Some Great Reads from our last 2 Hearing Loss Issues (July/Aug & Sept/Oct): A plethora of information related to hearing aids can be found in any of our Hearing Loss magazines if you want to learn more. In our last two bi-monthly issues, I noticed that HLAA has been trying increase awareness on why hearing aid coverage continues to be a problem.  HLAA needs the help of our hearing loss community.  You can help advocate for change at national, state or individual level. At individual level, you could be presenting your case to your employer on why hearing aid coverage is a necessary benefit that needs to be included in health benefit plans.

In the last 3 months, I learned that there are alternative routes that we could consider giving a try if hearing aid coverage is not included in our health benefits plan.  **Did you know that your employer may possibly be able to help cover some of the cost that you have to pay for your hearing aids/services?** I’ll be honest with you here though-I haven’t seen anything about this “written in stone” but I know that there are some employers that may be willing to make an exception.  A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is generally said that, ‘As long it does not cause any undue financial hardship on your company,’ then it could be worth asking.  After all this can actually be considered an accommodation that is needed in order for you to be successful in your job!

**On HLAA’s website, there is a Workplace page which includes an Employment Toolkit on how you can present a case for health care coverage of hearing aids to your employer.**

Wrapping up…: I want to share a few articles and summaries that I found useful from our last two Issues:

1) In our July/August 2011 Issue:

  • Our Executive Director provided a great summary on HLAA’s “Campaign to Make Hearing Aids Affordable.” (p.6) Wow! I had no idea how much HLAA was doing to help make Hearing Aids more affordable for us!  Thank you!
  • HLAA staff spent a day on Capitol Hill advocating for the Hearing Aid Tax Credit Legislation. (p.30) Oh wait, what is the Hearing Aid Tax Credit? I had no idea! All these years of doing my taxes… and I never included this? How does it work? Why don’t you find out more about this on your own? Call it a mini homework assignment from me (Hint-Google it! ;-))

2) In our September/October 2011 Issue:

  • HearingAid Costs: “Unbundling: A Way to Make Hearing Aids More Affordable?” (p.18) This article offers insight into hearing care billing practices and the relationshipbetween expert services and the success of hearing aid fitting. Boy, where was this information when I really needed it?! Well, the good news is that it’s available now so don’t let it slip through your fingers!
  • HearingAid Features: “Decibels and Dollars: A Look at Hearing Aid Features Across Price Points.” (p.30) Brad Ingrao writes about six hearing aid manufacturers to give you an idea what features you can expect at various price points. After all… knowledge is power, right?  So be sure to do your research! 🙂
  • Insurance: “Making Hearing Aids Affordable.” (p.34) **(HOT! HOT! Fresh off the press!)**  Our director of public policy looks at ways to pay for hearing aids. There’s a good chance that your employee health care benefits plan does not cover the cost of hearing aids, but the reason may be simply because no one thought to include it.  It pays to ask.  Earlier, I mentioned that one way that you can get started is to check out HLAA’s free Employment Toolkit on how you can present a case for health care coverage of hearing aids to your employer.

Additional resources:

  • More information on Medicaid Reform Public Forum is available on The Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website.
  • Hearing Health Care – Hearing Aids;Medicare/Medicaid; State Insurance Laws.
  • HLAA has a page on Hearing Aids if you’re looking to purchase hearing aids with sections on ‘Introduction to Hearing Aids; Features; Selecting a Hearing Aid and What to Ask when Purchasing a Hearing Aid’.
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