For the 48 million Americans with hearing loss, seeking treatment that is effective and affordable can be difficult. Surveys show that many patients with hearing loss can wait up to 15 years before seeking treatment, and others will forgo hearing aids all together even though they can directly benefit. For some, the cost of hearing aids can become steep, reducing accessibility and positive treatment outcomes for millions who need assistance. But now, a bill sponsored by Representative James Handy in 2019 will take effect this January, requiring private insurers and the state’s Medicaid program, MaineCare, to cover the cost of hearing aids up to $3,000 per ear, every three years. With this law, hearing aids can not only become more affordable for Maine residents but far more accessible to those in need.
When it comes to seeking treatment for hearing loss, the cost is a large barrier for many patients. The belief that the service that hearing aids provide is not worth the price is commonly held among many. The unfortunate truth is that many who do make the commitment report record levels of satisfaction with their devices. But requiring private insurers and Maine’s Medicaid program to cover the cost of hearing aids will drastically increase accessibility for those in need, and can help protect the health of Maine’s residents for the long term.“Some people need hearing aids that cost as much as $4,000 each,” explained Rep. Handy, “and many simply go without.”
Untreated hearing loss has been directly linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and dementia, costing billions in healthcare costs every year. It has also been linked to lower academic and job performance, as over 47% of hard of hearing Americans are out of the labor force. With hearing aids, health and economic related outcomes will drastically improve. “People who have hearing impairments tend to isolate themselves and that can lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s, but I also heard from people who had left the workforce because of hearing loss,” said Handy, “So to me, it is also a workforce development policy.”
The law does have some requirements that must be met to be eligible. For one, the hearing loss must be documented by a licensed audiologist or physician, according to the law. According to AARP, policyholders with deductibles greater than $3,000 that have not met the deductibles by the time of purchase, may be responsible for the entire cost of the hearing aids.
Handy’s bill passed without opposition in the Legislature, being signed by Gov. Janet Mills in June of 2019. For millions struggling without hearing aids, this law is a step in the right direction. Maines workforces become increasingly dependent on older workers, including many retirees returning to the work after time off. Hearing properly is critical when communicating on the job, to job safety, and successful outcomes. “Nobody should be forced out of the workforce because of a hearing impairment,” Handy said.