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How Untreated Hearing Loss Could Lead to Higher Health Care Costs

It’s that time of year again. You’ve renewed your health insurance and maybe getting ready to take it out for a spin. We all know that things like age and existing conditions can affect our insurance and medical costs, but did you know that untreated hearing loss can also lead to higher health care costs?
If you believe you have hearing loss and have been waiting for just the right time to seek treatment, this may be just the sign you’ve been looking for.
Untreated hearing loss hits harder than you think
While it’s easy to think of hearing loss as a minor annoyance, research has begun to show that it can have significant and long-term effects on our lives, especially when it is left untreated.
Untreated hearing loss has been connected to:

  • A higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia
  • Increased risk of social isolation
  • Lower-income
  • Increased risk of anxiety and depression
  • Increased risk of falls

Many believe that they don’t have hearing loss or that it’s not significant enough to seek treatment, but any level of hearing impairment can pose a risk to your health, and according to recent findings, your healthcare costs.
The findings
According to results from a study out of Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, older adults with untreated hearing loss can pay “substantially higher total health care costs compared to those who don’t have hearing loss.” The study found that increased expenses averaged approximately 46 percent or $22,434 per person over a decade.
At the start of the study, the research team analyzed health care data to identify approximately 77,000 people believed to have untreated age-related hearing loss. This group was compared to those with similar demographics and healthcare use but without the hearing loss.
After ten years, the same data and markers were revisited. The link was undeniable. Those with untreated hearing loss had experienced more hospital stays and readmissions, were more likely to seek treatment in the emergency room, and even had more outpatient visits than those in the group without hearing loss.
What changes?
The question is, how can untreated hearing loss have such a significant effect? Experts have several theories as to why this may be the case:

  • Several connections have been uncovered between hearing loss and other serious health issues such as cardiovascular diseases and cognitive decline. This connection may result in additional health care costs.
  • Hearing loss can impact a person’s ability to communicate with healthcare professionals leading to incomplete information and additional health care costs.

Experts continue to research the connection between untreated hearing loss and higher health care costs, but the link is undeniable.
“Knowing that untreated hearing loss dramatically drives up health care utilization and costs will hopefully be a call to action among health systems and insurers to find ways to better serve these patients,” says Nicholas S. Reed, AuD, study lead and a member of the core faculty of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at the Bloomberg School.
If you believe you have hearing loss, take action now to protect your health and your wallet. Contact our office to schedule a hearing evaluation today.

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Expanding Hearing Aid Access With Hearing Insurance

The loss of hearing is one of the most widespread conditions in America, yet many people who need them do not wear them. A significant reason that people give for this avoidance of hearing aids is the cost. It is true, the cost of hearing aids and maintenance can be substantial, although the improvement to the quality of one’s life is well worth the price. However, there is encouraging news. United Healthcare is now offering hearing aid insurance to expand hearing aid access to those who would not otherwise be able to purchase hearing aids. CareCredit is providing a new system that makes the process easier for the provider and the patient.

Hearing Health Insurance

United Healthcare Hearing will offer hearing health that is affordable for individuals, employer-based sponsor, and Medicare Advantage plan participants. Custom-programmed hearing aids will cost up to 80 percent less than the price of a device sold in the usual manner. Employers will be able to offer hearing health benefit plans that include a wide range of hearing aid options as well as access to a national network of hearing healthcare professionals. Participants with Medicare Advantage plans will be able to choose custom-programmed hearing aids with no out-of-pocket cost.
All of United Healthcare’s 25 million members will have access to hearing healthcare with more than 5,000 hearing healthcare professionals participating in the plan. The plan, which is known as UnitedHealthcare Hearing, is a merger between the largest provider of hearing insurance, EPIC hearing healthcare, and HealthInnovations, which is a direct-to-consumer provider of hearing aids. The company considers this an efficient way to improve the overall wellbeing of its participants.

Financing Options

Making hearing healthcare more accessible is also the goal of CareCredit. The credit provider is trying to help people get hearing aids as well as make the application process less of a hassle. CareCredit, in cooperation with the Blueprint Office Management System, is now providing more extensive assistance to patients applying for unique financing options. The goal is to enable hearing healthcare professionals the ability to save time and increase productivity. This new system allows CareCredit transactions to be written automatically back to the ledger which saves time and minimizes human error. The CareCredit application process is more straightforward as the information automatically transfers to the CareCredit application. The hearing healthcare professionals fill in a few additional fields of data and receive a decision quickly. Because cost keeps patients from getting the hearing aids they need, this arrangement provides easy access to financial assistance.
Increasing the accessibility of hearing health is vital. Many people need hearing aids, but few use them. People often cite cost as a deterrent for using hearing aids, and at an average price of $6,000 a pair, it is a sound reason. However, insurance plans and unique financing options may be changing things. Hopefully, improving accessibility to hearing aids will help all people who need hearing aids. This welcome news may help improve the hearing health and quality of life of countless individuals.

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An Audiologist Could Save Your Life

Healthcare is evolving. Holistic views of treating the whole person are gaining ground. The days of treating single isolated symptoms and health concerns without considering other systems of the body may soon be numbered.
A more holistic approach is now being explored by the Institute of Health Improvement (IHI) as a way to optimize the performance of our health system. That includes connecting interprofessional healthcare teams, including hearing healthcare providers, to provide optimal care to patients.
Improving health with team care
The Institute of Health Improvement is moving forward with an initiative to optimize healthcare in the United States. This approach is called the Quadruple Aim and includes four components:

  • Improving the health of populations
  • Enhancing the patient experience of care
  • Reducing the per capita cost of health care
  • Improving the work conditions of health care clinicians and staff

To do this, the IHI is exploring how best to connect health practitioners across disciplines.
Hearing healthcare providers on the team
There is no doubt that hearing is closely connected to so many other systems of the body. It has been linked to cardiovascular health, cognitive decline, diabetes, and moreover the years. In some cases, hearing loss is a symptom or early indicator of chronic disease, and sometimes a chronic disease is a cause of hearing loss. In other cases, hearing ability is found to be closely connected with acute health problems in one way or another. Either way, having a hearing healthcare professional on your healthcare team could prove invaluable when it comes to care and outcomes.
The Institute of Health Improvement began exploring just this solution in 2018 with a survey of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s (ASHA) Audiology Advisory Council.  A 20-question online survey was completed by 104 members of ASHA’s Advisory Councils focusing on interprofessional work and education. The survey found:

  • Almost 70% of those surveyed had engaged in interprofessional activity within the past 18 months.
  • Audiologists reported engaging in interprofessional practice more often than in interprofessional education.
  • Audiologists most frequently reported serving as team members in interprofessional teams, working most frequently with otolaryngologists, nurses, social workers, and SLPs.

Those surveyed also shared the benefits of interprofessional team collaborations they had seen including:

  • Consensus building across professions for difficult treatment decisions
  • Coordinated care for patients
  • Streamlined treatment planning for patients

The results underscore the importance of hearing healthcare professionals as part of an interdisciplinary team to provide comprehensive and effective care to patients.
Where we go from here
Healthcare is changing, and surveys like this help to confirm the value of switching to a more connected and collaborative approach to healthcare. Hearing healthcare professionals such as audiologists play a vital role in this care that is only now becoming truly appreciated. They are able to identify acute health concerns and chronic disease early thanks to routine hearing evaluations and examinations for complaints such as dizziness or ringing in the ears and refer patients to other members of their healthcare team for further examination and treatment.
As hearing is so connected to many systems of the body, so should hearing healthcare providers be closely connected to other healthcare providers to offer the best outcomes for their patients.