If you’re wondering whether Medicare cover hearing aids and amplifiers (PSAPs), then read on to find out exactly what is - and isn’t - covered.
Does Medicare Coverage include Hearing Aids and Amplifiers?
Hearing aids can drastically improve your quality of life if you suffer from hearing loss. For those who benefit from less targeted hearing enhancement, amplifiers (Personal Sound Amplification Products, or PSAPs) can make auditory experiences much more enjoyable.
Although citizens of countries with a public health system such as Norway and the U.K. can have hearing aids fitted for free, hard of hearing U.S. citizens are not so lucky. Medicare coverage does not yet include the cost of hearing aids and as the FDA does not recognize hearing amplifiers as medical devices, this includes PSAPs.
What’s the Difference Between a Hearing Aid and an Amplifier (PSAP)?
People often throw around the terms ‘hearing aid’ and ‘amplifier’, using them interchangeably. While both can improve your ability to hear in certain environments, they’re designed for very different purposes and function in different ways.
Hearing aids are medical devices designed for people with hearing loss. There are a few different types of hearing aid such as digital and analog; and various styles such as canal, in-the-ear (ITE), and behind-the-ear (BTE).
These devices can considerably improve the hearing of some individuals. In fact, more than 90% of people with hearing loss can benefit from the use of a hearing aid.
Although hearing aids can’t restore normal hearing, they can make day-to-day life much easier and allow greater participation in conversations with family and friends.
A big difference between hearing aids and amplifiers is that the functioning of the hearing aid often depends on the wearer. To reflect this, the device can be set to boost certain frequencies, for example focusing on voices rather than background noise. This is why hearing aids need fitting and adjusting. Amplifiers typically boost all sounds regardless of frequency or volume, and most do not have this customization feature.
Hearing Amplifiers (PSAP)
Those who have trouble hearing only in certain situations may benefit from the use of an amplifier if they would like to enhance their experience of sounds around them. Just like binoculars can zoom in on an object, a PSAP can zoom in on a sound and improve your auditory experiences.
Although what counts as ‘normal hearing’ is difficult to define (especially without a hearing test or the help of a professional), you can check whether you have any additional signs of hearing loss.
As highlighted by the FDA, hearing amplifiers are certainly not a replacement for hearing aids. These devices are not medical devices and should be used by those with a purpose to amplify environmental sounds. For this reason, it's unlikely that Medicare coverage will extend to PSAPs in the future.
However, many people find them effective in various situations. They can be used to “keep an ear” on children in another room, or enhance sound quality during recreational activities like birdwatching or going to the theatre, or for work meetings or conversations in large groups.
Learn more about hearing amplifiers and PSAPs in our article.
What’s the Difference in Price Between Hearing Aids and Amplifiers (PSAP)?
As they're not included in Medicare coverage, hearing aids can be prohibitively expensive. Depending on the technology, a single hearing aid can cost anywhere from amounts nearing $1000 to a hefty $6000. Almost anyone will agree that this is a significant cost.
An estimated 67-86% of people aged 50 years and older who could benefit from the use of a hearing aid don’t use one. This could be for various reasons, including hearing aid stigma and the fact that hearing aids aren't included in Medicare coverage.
As with other products, a cheaper price usually means less sophisticated features. When you’re choosing your device keep in mind your specific needs and think through how much certain functionalities mean to you.
Sometimes the price of a hearing aid is high because you’re paying for more than just the device itself, you’re paying for a bundled service. These services are quite common as patients often have lots of questions, require a fitting, need repairs, and may experience a change in their requirements. Bundled pricing often includes a consultation, the initial fitting, follow-up adjustments, routine cleanings, and even a warranty that can range from one to three years.
Bear in mind that none of these services are included in Medicare coverage either. Therefore, bundling can be a big bonus if you’re paying a lot of money for your device.
Hearing Amplifiers (PSAP)
Hearing amplifiers are considerably cheaper, and can be picked up for as little as $100 - $500. Although this means that they are an affordable purchase for anyone looking to enhance their hearing, this should not act as an incentive to choose an amplifier over a hearing aid, especially if you know you have significant hearing loss.
Failure to get proper help and equipment for hearing loss can lead to a further deterioration of your hearing and can even exacerbate the development of cognitive decline and dementia. Unfortunately, as a lack of Medicare coverage means most people simply don't have the money for a hearing aid even if they wanted one, these problems are becoming more common.
You should choose a device based on your hearing needs before selecting a specific product according to your budget and insurance coverage.
If you’re wondering whether you need a hearing test, the National Council of Aging’s (NCOA) brochure Hearing Loss: It’s a Family Affair offers helpful advice, or you can find online hearing tests for free.
Does Medicare Coverage include Hearing Aids?
Unfortunately for US citizens struggling with their hearing, the Medicare coverage in Parts A & B does not cover hearing exams, hearing aids, or fittings. You must pay 100% of the cost of hearing aids and exams.
Hearing loss is a common problem affecting 48 million Americans in the U.S. today. This means that many Americans are either struggling without the funds to purchase a hearing device or have paid over the odds to buy one themselves.
With Part B Medicare coverage, there is an exception. Your provider can order tests to see if you need medical treatment for an ear condition other than hearing loss, such as those causing dizziness or vertigo.
Do Medicare Advantage Plans Cover Hearing Aids?
Medicare Advantage is an alternative to Original Medicare coverage, as it offers an “all in one” plan. These “bundled” plans are offered by private companies approved by Medicare, and include Part A (hospital insurance), Part B (medical insurance), and usually Part D (for prescription drugs).
If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, it’s best to check with your plan to see if any hearing services or supplies are covered.
Every plan is different, and may or may not provide cover for hearing-related difficulties.
Without Medicare coverage, where Can I Get Help Paying for Hearing Aids and Tests?
Paying for your own hearing aids and tests can be costly without Medicare coverage. Luckily, there are a few organizations that can help relieve some or all of the financial strain.
- Sertoma is a civic service organization connecting people with hearing assistance. They have a comprehensive listing of national and state charitable programs.
- Help America Hear is an assistance program from the Foundation for Sight and Sound helping low-income individuals access new hearing aids.
- Some local Lions’ Clubs run projects which distribute affordable hearing aids to those in need. Contact your local club to see if it offers the program.
- The Hearing Industries Association has a useful Guide to Financial Assistance for Hearing Aids.
This is not an exhaustive list and there are many charities that you can turn to. You might even be able to find useful resources and state-specific recommendations through online forums where you can chat with other individuals experiencing hearing loss.
The Medicare Hearing Act of 2019
Hearing aids can dramatically improve your quality of life if you suffer from hearing loss. As a result, they’re the obvious solution for those recently diagnosed. This is why it comes as a surprise that Medicare coverage does not include the cost of hearing aids for those in need of assistance.
As hearing loss is often age-related, the condition is simply an inevitability for millions of U.S. citizens. It’s clear that free or cheap access to hearing aids should be the norm. The fact that Medicare coverage doesn't include treatment for this common and life-hindering condition means it is inadequate.
Luckily, this has been recognized. In 2019, Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Georgia) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) pursued the issue, leading the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the House of Representatives to pass the Medicare Hearing Act of 2019 (H.R. 4618).
This amends the Social Security Act to provide insurance coverage for hearing aids and hearing health services under Part B of the Medicare coverage program.
Although this is a fantastic achievement, before you dash out to get your hearing aids it’s important to remember that the act is not yet recognized by the law. In fact, the journey has just begun.
The entire House of Representatives is required to vote, then the Senate needs to pass the legislation. If the act gets this far, the law will then need to be finalized by the president. But, if everything goes smoothly, then Medicare coverage will be extended to hearing aids in the future.
Medicare Hearing Act Coverage Limitations
It’s also worth keeping in mind that The Medicare Hearing Act of 2019 still has some restrictions. Some of these restrictions may even be extended if the government requires change to be made to the Hearing Act before they can pass it.
- Only one pair of hearing aids will be included in Medicare coverage every five years
- A written order from a doctor or qualified audiologist will be required
- Only those with severe-to-profound hearing loss will qualify for Medicare coverage
- Over-the-counter hearing aids or PSAPs will not be included in Medicare coverage
You can keep track of the bill and any developments through the congress.gov web page. However, if you have symptoms of hearing loss, don’t wait to contact a medical professional.
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The information in this guide has been written using the following reliable sources: