There have been a number of pieces of recent US legislation put forward in the House and Senate to begin including aspects of hearing care into Medicare coverage. For years, consumers have had to bear the brunt of hearing aid costs, as private insurance typically does not cover the cost of hearing aids, nor does Medicare insurance coverage. For today’s update, I want to go through the current legislation that has recently surfaced that is designed to bring hearing care under the broader Medicare insurance umbrella.
In July, Tom Rice (R-SC) introduced a bipartisan bill to the House of Representatives titled, “Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act of 2019 (H.R. 4056)” The bill is designed to make it easier for Medicare patients to receive audiologic care by making the services more accessible. For example, it would remove the requirement for the patient to be be referred to an audiologist by the patient’s physician. In addition, one of the key points of this legislation is that it would reclassify audiologists to be considered, “practitioners,” which is the same status as other non-physician providers, such as psychologists, clinical social workers, and advanced practice registered nurses.
Two months later, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) brought forward an identical companion piece of legislation to the Senate. As the bill reads, “Medicare currently does not recognize audiologists as providers of most hearing health-related services and will only allow reimbursement for a narrow set of tests to diagnose a hearing or balance disorder – and only if patients first obtain an order from a physician or nurse practitioner.” Therefore, this piece of legislation would ultimately help to provide the patient with direct access to the audiologist and allow the audiologist to broaden the scope of services that can be reimbursed. Less hoops to jump through for the patient, and more reimbursement opportunities for the professional.
— Rep. Lucy McBath (@RepLucyMcBath) October 18, 2019
At the beginning of October, a separate piece of legislation was put forward by Congresswoman Lucy McBath (D-GA) and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI), titled, “Medicare Hearing Act of 2019 (H.R. 4618).” This bill is specific to part B of the Medicare program, and would amend Medicare part B to include aural rehabilitation and treatment services to the current scope. It would also, include hearing aids as a prosthetic device and make the devices insurable through Medicare. The bill does however outline limitations to how the hearing aids would be covered, which David Copithorne from Hearing Tracker outlined here. On Thursday, the bill crossed its first milestone, as it was approved by the Energy Commerce Committee.
Along with each of these new pieces of legislation, the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act that was signed into law in July of 2017 and is currently in the hands of the FDA as it drafts guidelines, which are expected to be released in 2020. So, five years after the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a report that cited untreated hearing loss as a, “significant national problem,” a number of changes are now being proposed within the government pertaining to the way hearing aids and hearing care services are insured and can be accessed by the patient. Each of these new bills still need to be passed by the house, senate and ultimately signed into law by the president, but nevertheless, it’s great to see multiple pieces of legislation being put forward to help combat untreated hearing loss.
-Thanks for Reading-