Good news! In November 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amended version of the Build Back Better Bill (H.R. 5376) that includes several hearing-related provisions. If enacted, this bill would add coverage of treatment services offered by audiologists for the first time in Medicare’s history.
This marks a great stride in offering hearing coverage in the United States. Surveys show that one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 has age-related hearing loss, and nearly half of those over 75 have difficulty hearing. Most Medicare participants are older than 65, meaning that many people covered by Medicare have difficulty hearing and are in need of professional hearing care.
In addition to adding coverage for services provided by audiologists, the bill would also reclassify audiologists as practitioners and add them to the list of providers eligible to offer their services via telehealth. This is important because, as we saw in 2021, telehealth is going nowhere soon. Even as countries around the world make strides in offering COVID-19 vaccines and fighting the pandemic, telehealth services remain vital in making healthcare available to more people.
Telehealth services are especially important for Medicare participants. As Medicare is available to people aged 65 and older, younger people with disabilities, and people with End Stage Renal Disease, some people who use Medicare may have difficulty attending in-office appointments with their healthcare providers, including audiologists.
Furthermore, even as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, some Medicare participants may feel anxious or hesitant to schedule in-office appointments due to health concerns. By adding audiologists to the list of providers eligible to offer their services via telehealth, these patients will be able to receive the care they need with greater convenience and safety.
The amended version of the Build Back Better bill also includes provisions to add hearing aid dispensers as “qualified hearing professionals” eligible to provide hearing assessment services, as allowed by state licensure. The bill includes coverage of hearing aids for individuals with moderately severe to profound hearing loss in one or both ears once every five years if furnished through a written order by a physician, audiologist, or other practitioner for devices that are determined appropriate by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. In addition, the bill excludes hearing aids from competitive bidding when furnished by a physician or other practitioner to their own patients as part of a service.
The American Academy of Audiology (AAA), the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) have supported these hearing provisions as part of the Medicare Audiologist Access and Services act (H.R. 1587/S. 1731). The focus of these efforts is to ensure that audiologists are able to provide the full range of services under Medicare that they are educated, trained, and licensed to provide. While these provisions mark significant progress, the AAA, ADA, and ASHA believe more work remains to be done to ensure access to audiology care.
To learn more about the services offered by our skilled hearing professional, we invite you to contact us today.