Picture of umbrella over peopleTens of millions of Americans have hearing loss, and as the population ages, that number could rise. Unfortunately, most people who could benefit from hearing aids don’t have them, in part because most insurance companies don’t cover them. It is important to understand why these incredibly essential devices aren’t included in plans, so we can take steps to try and make it easier for people to get the help they need to improve the quality of their lives.

The Extent of the Problem

Hearing loss is not considered a disability in the U.S., but if it were it would rank as having the largest group of affected Americans. About 15 percent of Americans have some hearing loss, and this number rises to as high as 50 percent for people ages 75 and older. Between two and three children per 1,000 are born with permanent hearing loss and more experience hearing loss after birth. Unfortunately, new hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars per ear, and even people who get used hearing aids have to pay to have them refitted and reprogrammed to fit their specific hearing test results. It is likely that the high cost of hearing aids and lack of insurance coverage is much of the reason that up to 80 percent of Americans who could benefit from the devices do not have them.

Who is Covered?

Arkansas, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island are the only states that mandate hearing aid coverage for adults and only 20 states require coverage for children’s hearing aids. The Department of Veterans Affairs often does pay for hearing aids, but the large Medicare system that older Americans rely on does not. It is very rare for private insurance companies to offer coverage, forcing people to forego getting hearing aids altogether or to make sacrifices in other aspects of their lives simply so that they can hear. Without these devices, people can suffer from depression and other mental and physical health issues and may have trouble performing at work or enjoying family gatherings because they can’t hear the conversations around them.

Why Aren’t Hearing Aids Covered?

Given the huge impact they could make in people’s lives, and given the number of other things that are covered by insurance, it is difficult to understand why insurance companies don’t cover them. The companies themselves often state that getting hearing aids is elective, similar to having plastic surgery. Given the difficulties that people with hearing loss face, it is hard to believe that getting devices that could change their lives should be treated as elective rather than addressing a disability.

The more likely reason that insurance companies don’t cover hearing aids is that they don’t want to bear the cost, and don’t want to pass that cost along to their policyholders. It is not likely that this is going to change soon, and it is most likely to change if Congress mandates it rather than relying on the insurance companies to make the change themselves.