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Happy New Ear

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older adult earNo, it is not a typo. There are some new changes to insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act that will have a big impact on one of America’s often overlooked health care needs: hearing. Did you know that one in five adult Americans have some form of hearing loss according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Yet, only about one in five of the one in five with a hearing loss actually have used a hearing aid in the past. That translates into about 40 million adult Americans go without a device that could re-engage them with the world, and it mostly is because hearing aids are expensive – about $1,000 to $5,000 – and last only about three to five years before a replacement is needed.
The implications for the older population are staggering. Among adults between 65 and 75 years of age, the percent with some hearing lost, but this jumps to fifty percent of those 75 and older who have a hearing deficit. In past blog postings, I have talked about two of the major challenges of aging: loss and isolation. Picture those two amplified by the inability to hear the words of comfort from another person or to engage in social activities simply because one cannot hear well.
But there are changes afoot. The Affordable Care Act stipulated a requirement for coverage for the ten “essential health benefits” (EHBs). Advocates for hearing health see number 7 of these ten as applying to hearing: “rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices.” While this is not a done deal, there are increasing numbers of states and/or insurers who are getting on board with hearing health just as they had in the past with vision or dental health.
UnitedHealth Group has introduced a hearing health option in 2011 that can be either a benefit or at least a discount. Closer to home, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois is now offering a discount benefit to their members through TruHearing. With these giant insurers in the lead, you have to believe that others will follow now that the playing field for health insurance has become more competitive. You should also check your AAA insurance or AARP membership for discounts. And Veterans Benefits and the Federal Employee Benefit Health Program have always included a hearing health benefit for their members. If you are a caregiver to an older loved one who is having hearing difficulties, give one of these entities a call. You may be very pleased at what you – and your loved one – hear.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to info@creativecaremanagement.com.

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