Hearing loss is an extremely common issue among older adults. In fact, around one in three Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 experience some level of hearing loss. Once a person reaches the age of 75, that percentage of the population goes up to nearly 50 percent.
Although there are some other conditions that can cause hearing loss at a younger age, age-related hearing loss — called presbycusis — occurs gradually over time. It’s caused by changes to our inner ear that are a normal result of the aging process. Presbycusis is different from noise-induced hearing loss, which is caused by prolonged exposure to loud or percussive noises without proper protection. At this time, doctors don’t know how to protect our ears against age-related damage. This is why many seniors end up needing some kind of electronic hearing instrument to help boost their hearing.
These electronic hearing devices can take the form of a hearing aid, assistive listening device, or a more serious intervention like a cochlear implant, depending on the severity of your hearing loss. The majority of cases can be assisted by a hearing aid, which is why many doctors prescribe them to their patients.
However, despite the fact that they’ve been able to help millions of Americans, hearing aids for seniors are not covered under the majority of insurance plans or Medicare. Depending on the type of hearing aid you’re prescribed, you’re looking at a major expense at a time in your life when you’re likely on a fixed budget.
To help, here are some of the ways that you may be able to save money or seek financial assistance for your hearing aids.
Explore Your Employee Benefits and Health Insurance Thoroughly
The average price of a hearing aid ranges between $1,500 and $3,500 per ear. If you need two, that could mean spending as much as $7,000 — and that doesn’t include yearly battery changes!
If you’ve been prescribed a hearing aid by a doctor, your first step in seeking financial aid should be checking with your employee benefits (if you’re still at work), veteran benefits, or federal employee assistance. If you’re not a veteran and not employed by the federal government, these won’t apply to you, but you can still look up your employee benefits and check whether hearing aids are covered.
Medicare does not cover hearing aids, but if you have private health insurance, you may be able to get some portion of the costs covered. Three states — Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Arkansas — require that private insurers cover some portion of the cost of hearing aids. Under the Affordable Care Act, some states also include some hearing aid coverage, but you’ll need to do your research to find out how much you can expect to pay out of pocket.
Consult a Non-Profit or Foundation Focused on Hearing Loss
The majority of ACA insurance plans and Medicare plans do not cover hearing aids. If they do, it’s generally a smaller portion of the basic cost, which will only stretch so far if you need hearing aids on both ears or have made a decision to use a most costly model.
If you don’t have insurance or still owe thousands of dollars on your device, the next step in lightening your financial burden is seeking help from a hearing loss foundation or non-profit organization. Many organizations like the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), Lions Club International, and the Starkey Hearing Foundation offer some form of income-based financial aid which helps people purchase hearing aids.
To help figure what hearing loss organizations offer financial aid, the HLAA has compiled a handy list for people to check out. Most of these organizations ask you to fill out an application with details about your financial situation, then ask you to either submit a medical form as a supporting document or come into one of their doctors for an assessment. Typically, you would need to fit under the organization’s income threshold in order to be considered for assistance.
Contact Hearing Aid Manufacturers to Ask About Trial Programs
If you aren’t able to qualify for assistance from a hearing loss organization and don’t receive any assistance from your employee benefits or insurance plan, there is still hope. Many hearing loss organizations point people towards hearing aid manufacturers, which often run trial programs to test their newest models before they hit the market. These trials often need willing test subjects. So, if you’re accepted, you could be given a brand-new, state-of-the-art hearing aid in exchange for a few hours of your time.
The organization Healthy Hearing has compiled a list of the top hearing aid manufacturers in the United States. They recommend that people seeking access to trial programs start there. Your audiologist is also a great resource to find trials as health professionals often have access to information that’s not available to the general public.
If your doctor is recommending hearing aids, getting a pair that works perfectly for your needs is already complicated. Trying to find coverage and fit a huge purchase like this into your already limited budget can be daunting. Fortunately, there are lots of options for financial assistance, especially if you’re a senior.
Your doctor can help get you started but doing your research and exploring the nuances of any benefits or health insurance that you have will help you plan and budget for this (hopefully) life-changing purchase.