Important legislation was reintroduced in the House of Representatives that could be life-changing for some seniors in the United States.
For the second time, The Help Extend Auditory Relief Act was brought in front of Congress, and if it passes, seniors will see significant changes to their hearing coverage under Medicare.
U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright has reintroduced legislation that would extend Medicare coverage to hearing aids. The Help Extend Auditory Relief Act, first introduced in 2013, would also provide coverage for a “comprehensive audiology assessment” to determine whether a hearing aid is necessary and appropriate for an individual.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), nearly 25 percent of those aged 65 to 74 and 50 percent of those 75 and older have disabling hearing loss. Medicare, the national social insurance program administered by the federal government for seniors and younger people with disabilities or certain illnesses, does not mandate coverage for hearing care or hearing aids. Hearing aids can cost anywhere from $1000 to $4000 a piece, an expense which is difficult to bear for many seniors. The result is that many of those in need of hearing aids go without.
This isn’t the bill’s first time in front of Congress, however. On September 19, 2013, Cartwright and 12 other congressmen first introduced the legislation, called HEAR for short, that would extend Medicare coverage to hearing aids. At the time, the bill, which amends title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act, was co-sponsored by 25 other members of congress. On September 19, 2013 it was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce for markup. On September 20, it was sent to the Subcommittee on Health for review and study. Unfortunately that is as far as it got; like most bills, it failed to get traction in the House of Representatives and was considered “dead” when the 113th Congress ended its term in December 2014.
Given the relatively short two year term of Congress verses the extremely complex legislative process, it is not uncommon for legislation such as HEAR to wither before being signed into law. As a matter of fact, the majority of bills are not signed into law during their introductory term, and are then reintroduced during the following Congressional term with a new bill number.
On June 12, 2015 the HEAR Act, now known as HR 2748, was re-introduced in the House of Representatives with 12 co-sponsors. At this time it has only gotten as far in the legislative process as being referred to a committee.
The importance of the bill to America’s senior population cannot be underestimated. According to the NIDCD, fewer than 30 percent of those over the age of 70 who are in need of hearing aids actually get them. The high cost of hearing aids, which are widely uninsured, is a significant factor; hearing aids are simply not affordable for the general population.
One change that could help see the HEAR legislation enacted as law is making hearing loss part of the conversation. Historically, hearing loss is an issue that is not as widely discussed as other health issues; most people aren’t aware that hearing loss is a serious health issue. In fact, it is the most common medical condition in the United States after heart disease and diabetes. According to a survey done by the National Council on Aging, those with untreated hearing loss are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and paranoia and are less likely to participate in organized social activities compared to those who wear hearing aids. Withdrawal and isolation are common, and those with untreated hearing loss report experiencing a lower quality of life.
Perhaps helping to bring even greater awareness to the issue is the fact the latest reincarnation of HEAR has friends in high places; the bill has been endorsed by The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, the National Association of the Deaf, National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
“Today, many Medicare beneficiaries suffer isolation and severe health problems because they cannot afford to buy hearing aids which cost thousands of dollars. For that reason, the National Committee’s current Legislative Agenda includes support for Medicare coverage for hearing examinations and hearing aids,” said Max Richtman, President and chief executive operator of NCPSSM.
So what is next for HEAR? It will be referred to a House Subcommittee for further study and review. And if the 114th Congress ends without it being acted into law, most likely it will be reintroduced in the 115th Congress. As a matter of fact, it is not uncommon for a bill to be reintroduced in four or five subsequent Congresses before any action is taken. Though the wheels of legislation are often slow, the bill’s sponsors will continue to fight for this important issue for America’s seniors.
“This is the beginning of a national conversation about how to make hearing aids more affordable and we must continue to strengthen Medicare as seniors struggle for access to affordable healthcare,” said Rep. Cartwright.