HLAA Convention: How to Pay for Hearing Aids
By Bonnie O’Leary
Editor: I get lots of calls and emails from people looking for help and information related to hearing loss. By far the most frequent question is how to get help paying for hearing aids. This HLAA Convention workshop presented by Lise Hamlin addresses that issue.
This popular break-out session was given by our dear friend and former NVRC colleague, Lise Hamlin. Lise started off by mentioning how many complaints HLAA receives about the high cost of hearing aids and how they are not usually covered by health insurance plans. The current range of cost for one hearing aid is $1,000 to $4,000. Contributing to this high cost are research and development, customization of each hearing aid to fit the needs of the wearer, and manufacturing/marketing costs. Also included in the cost calculations are the time spent with the professional who selects, fits, programs, adjusts and services the instruments. When the average lifetime of a hearing aid is generally three to five years, wearers are faced with repeated large expenditures for the lifetime of their hearing loss.
Lise then presented some possible solutions.
The Hearing Aid Assistance Tax Credit Act (HR 1646, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, NY), provides a tax credit for $500/hearing aid once every 5 years, available to taxpayers earning $200,000 a year or less who are 55 and older, plus their dependents. This bill had 119 cosponsors as of May 13, 2010. S1019, supported by Senator Tom Harkin (IA), offers the same benefits but covers all taxpayers without restriction, and this had 10 cosponsors as of May 13, 2010. http://www.hearingloss.org/advocacy/legislative.asp. To see if your legislators are on board, check http://www.hearingaidtaxcredit.org/cosponsors/cfm. Thank them if they are, but if they are not, send email, letters and visit them to support the bill!
The Medicare Hearing Enhancement and Auditory Rehabilitation (HEAR) Act of 2009 is supported by HLAA supports this bill, introduced in the House as H.R.504 and in the Senate as S.1837. It would amend Title VIII of the Social Security Act to cover hearing aids and auditory rehabilitation under the Medicare Program.
Health care reform is underway in this country, and HLAA did fight for language to specifically include people with hearing loss. But services and devices to treat hearing loss were not included, although hearing aids were excluded from tax on medical devices, and coverage for “rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices” is included. HHS will promulgate rules to define those “services and devices”, and HLAA will be there to comment.
Several states have passed legislation that provides health insurance coverage for hearing aids; these include Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Delaware, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Wisconsin. You can get involved by finding out if your state has insurance coverage, and forming a group of like-minded citizens to work towards insurance coverage if it does not. Visit http://www.graceslaw.com to learn how New Jersey’s law came about.
Federal Employee Health Benefit Plans (FEHB) covered children as of January 1, 2008, and adults as of January 1, 2009. At least 11 plans include coverage for hearing aids. Active duty military have coverage through TRICARE (US Dept. of Defense Military Health System) if they meet specific hearing loss requirements. The Air Force Aid Society offers coverage on a case by case review. Emergency assistance can be given as an interest free loan, a grant, or a combination of both. Veterans meeting eligibility requirements can receive diagnostic audiology services. Additional information can be found at http://www.hearingloss.org/veterans/resources.asp.
Medicaid and SCHIP are two resources that may offer benefits. Medicaid is a public-funded health insurance program for people with very low income. SCHIP is the State Children’s health Insurance Program, designed to cover uninsured children in families with incomes that are modest but too high to qualify for Medicaid. Each state establishes its own criteria and coverage models. For a state-by-state listing of benefits, visit www.kff.org/medicaid/benefits/service.jsp?nt=on&so=0&tg=0&yr=2&cat+11&sv=11.
Vocational Rehabilitation has helped more than 14 million people. There is no income eligibility; you simply need to be a person with a disability to qualify for services. Among the services provided by VR are prostheses, hearing aids, college education, vocational training, and job placement. VR only has funds to serve around 10% of those who are eligible, and some states have long waiting lists. Sometimes it helps to apply at the start of their fiscal year.
Many corporations and/or your hearing health provider may offer financial assistance for hearing aids or audiological services. HLAA has a policy statement to show employers. Many companies offer Medical Flexible Spending Accounts which allow staff to set aside up to $5,000 of their pay per year, through payroll deductions, on a pre-taxed basis, to pay for out-of-pocket medical and dental expenses. The deduction maximum limits are set by the employer. All expenses not covered under a group insurance plan are considered covered expenses under FSA.
If your employer does not offer any help, urge them to include hearing aids in your company’s health care plan or a medical flex plan. You can start with the Human Resources Department, or even your boss, showing what the problem is and what the possible solution could be. You can show them HLAA’s fact sheet: hearing Aids, Health Benefits and Insurance Coverage. http://www.hearingloss.org/advocacy/insure752a.asp.
Private and Civic Financial Aid
Better Hearing Institute (BHI) has a listing of over 55 different private programs that provide loans or grants to qualifying people who need hearing aids, “Your Guide to Financial Assistance for Hearing Aids.” You can access this at http://www.betterhearing.org. Most of the resources in the guide are for low income individuals and families. However, there are a few who assist those whose income is above the government’s established poverty levels but who still find it difficult to afford quality hearing, such as AUDIENT (www.audientalliance.org), and Let Them Hear Foundation (www.letthemhear.org). For a listing of providers of financial assistance for hearing aids and personal assistive technology, visit http://hearingloss.org/support/financial.asp.
(c)2010 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), 3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130, Fairfax, VA 22030; www.nvrc.org; 703-352-9055 V, 703-352-9056 TTY, 703-352-9058 Fax. You do not need permission to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC.