We all know that hearing loss is a common issue for seniors. It’s estimated that around a third of people ages 65 to 75 experience hearing issues, and that likelihood only gets higher as you age. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 30 million American adults could benefit from hearing aids.
A good hearing aid can make a world of difference – but will Medicare cover it? What are your options? Let’s look at what Medicare will and won’t cover in terms of hearing aids, possible coverage alternatives and ways to save money.
Medicare and hearing aid coverage
Original Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids or hearing aid fitting exams. Beneficiaries pay out of pocket – and that price can get a little steep. On average, one hearing aid can be around $2,000 or more depending on what kind of device you need. However, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. There are plenty of options to explore, such as Medicare Advantage plans, discount options and more.
Why doesn’t Original Medicare cover hearing aids?
To understand why Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids, you have to look back at the creation of the program itself. The Medicare Act of 1965 excluded coverage for hearing aids under the belief that they were affordable enough for beneficiaries to buy on their own.
These days, we’re in a different place. Our lifespans are getting longer, so more and more people are likely to need hearing support services and devices. In addition, we now have a better understanding of how hearing issues can affect physical and mental health, increasing the risk of depression, social isolation and cognitive decline as we age. Plus, hearing aids are no longer as affordable as they once were.
Will Medicare cover hearing aids in the future?
It’s hard to say – Medicare is always changing. As of right now, Medicare will most likely not expand its coverage of hearing aids and other hearing services in the near future.
However, 2023 is ushering in a new year of support. Due to increased regulations and a final rule announced by the Federal Drug Administration, more affordable hearing aids will now be available over the counter for people over 18 with mild to moderate hearing loss. That means you won’t have to visit a doctor for a prescription, which will make hearing aids easier to access.
Does Medicare cover hearing tests?
Original Medicare doesn’t cover general hearing services and exams, except in instances where testing may be medically necessary. For instance, if you get sick or injured, it may affect your ear health, and these tests can be used to assess possible conditions. In this situation, Part B would cover 80% of the cost, and you would pay the remaining 20% after meeting your deductible. The catch? Your doctor must accept Medicare and you need an audiologist referral to receive coverage.
Medicare Advantage coverage for hearing aids
Although Original Medicare doesn’t cover hearing devices, that doesn’t mean you’re out of options. There are plenty of Medicare Advantage plans (Part C) – and in some areas, Medicare Cost plans – that can help you get the support you need. It depends on what kind of coverage you choose, but these plans, offered by private insurance companies, can sometimes cover hearing aids, exams and other additional benefits.
How to save money on hearing aids
If you’re on Original Medicare, and you’re looking for ways to save on hearing aids right now, there are plenty of avenues for you to explore. We know that hearing aids are a big investment, and everyone’s financial and health situation is different. Take a look at these savings options and see which might work for you.
- Over-the-counter hearing aids: Due to FDA regulatory changes, people with mild to moderate hearing loss can now purchase hearing aids without a prescription, medical exam or fitting with an audiologist. Over-the-counter hearing aids can still be a bit expensive, but they’re estimated to cost about $2,000-$3,000 less than prescription devices. That's a potential savings of 40%- 60%, depending on the hearing aid option you choose.
- Discount programs: There are plenty of discount programs you can search for online and locally that may help you decrease the cost of your hearing aids. A good place to start is with associations you may already be a member of, such as AARP and local senior groups.
- Direct to consumer: Many online retailers offer direct-to-consumer (DTC) hearing aids. After taking a hearing test (either with your audiologist or the retailer themselves), your hearing aids will be sent directly to you. This option is typically lower in cost, and some retailers will allow you to pay monthly as part of a subscription plan.
- Medicaid: Although it varies by state, Medicaid may sometimes cover hearing aids and exams for those that qualify based on income. You can contact your state Medicaid program to see if you’re eligible.
- Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB): FEHB coverage applies only to current and retired government employees. Beneficiaries may qualify for hearing aids and exams. In most cases, you will need to be enrolled in FEHB currently and for at least five years before you retire.
- U.S. Dept of Veteran Affairs (USDVA) benefits: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. veterans are 30% more likely to experience a severe hearing issue. For veterans who qualify, the USDVA may provide hearing aids, exams and additional hearing services.
- HSAs and FSAs: If you have a flexible spending account (FSA) or a health savings account (HSA), you might be eligible for reimbursement when you purchase hearing aids.
Getting the Medicare coverage you need for hearing aids
While Original Medicare has its limitations, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Your hearing needs are important, and you have options. A Medicare Advantage plan or Medicare Cost plan can help you get the care and coverage you need, from hearing aids to exams.
Are you a HealthPartners Medicare Advantage or Cost plan member?
Your plan includes a hearing aid benefit. Call your Member Services team to learn more.