Does Health Insurance Cover Hearing Aids?
Hearing loss affects more than 35 million Americans however is rarely identified as a disability for insurance purposes and often not covered by health insurance, forcing consumers to pay the high costs of hearing aids and other treatments.
How Much Does a Hearing Aid Cost?
The actual cost of a hearing aid depends on the type of hearing loss it treats. Hearing aids typically range in cost from $1,000 to $6,000 per ear. About 80 percent of adults with hearing loss fail to receive care for their conditions because of the prohibitive price tag of these devices. The Food and Drug Administration classifies hearing devices according to the system they use to improve hearing and the types of conditions they treat. According to the FDA:
- Behind-The-Ear (BTE) Hearing Aids – rest behind the ear in a small plastic case. They can be formed to fit various ear types and are easy to handle and clean. These devices are often the least expensive, ranging from $399 to $599 for the cheapest models. There are also “mini” BTEs that are smaller and less noticeable.
- In-The-Ear Hearing Aids – use all or part of the ear canal to conceal the device. These may be easier for some people to incorporate into their lives and come in various sizes. ITEs fit the outer part of the ear and are visible. In-the-canal or ITC aids and completely-in-the-canal or CIC aids are much smaller and are virtually invisible. However, their size makes this difficult to adjust.
- Analog Hearing Aids – work by making sound waves longer. The longer the wave, the easier it is for most people to hear, as many hearing loss conditions begin with high-frequency hearing loss. These hearing aids are much cheaper than the digital versions. However, these hearing aids must be adjusted for the level of background noise, making them less effective than their digital counterparts which adjust automatically.
- Digital Hearing Aids – use computer technology to adjust for sound differentials. They convert sound waves into digital signals and reduce background noise effortlessly. They can be programmed for specific types of hearing loss. They also carry a much higher price tag than analog models.
Are There Any Insurance Plans that Pay for Hearing Aids?
The Veterans Administration will sometimes pay for hearing aids. However, the patient must meet qualifying tests including hearing loss suffered from service activities and income requirements. Medicare, for the most part, does not pay for hearing aids beyond the initial screening tests, nor do most private insurance companies cover these costs.
However, there are ways to find affordable hearing aids that may work for your particular type of hearing loss. “Big box” stores and online retailers offer non-prescription hearing aids for around $400 to $1,000 dollars that may work for general hearing loss; however, users complain about the compressed and “tinny” sound of these cheaper models.
For those who need prescription hearing aids, there may also be ways to pay for these devices. Many civic groups sponsor payment of hearing aids for those who cannot afford them; check with your local Chamber of Commerce for possible sources in your area. You may also qualify for help through groups like AARP that lobby for discounts and price assistants for the elderly. However, in most cases, you will have to pay for your hearing aids yourself.
You may be able to use pre-tax dollars to pay for your hearing aid if you have a medical spending account set up as part of your payroll deductions. If you know you need a hearing aid, talk to your human resources specialist about how much you can save each month toward this cost. Most hearing aid providers offer payment plans so that you can pay off your hearing aid over time.
Three states — Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Arkansas — require private insurance providers to cover at least part of the cost of hearing aids. These states require that insurance providers pay between $700 and $1500 of the cost of a hearing aid. Some states also require that insurers provide coverage for children’s hearing aids but make no provision for adults or the elderly.
Paying for a hearing aid can be difficult, but it is possible to find help for your hearing aid costs from various sources. In the end, you must weigh the need for hearing help against the ultimate cost of the hearing aid that will provide you with that relief.