Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Brown's Medicare bill could add hearing aids

Source Link - Brown's Medicare bill could add hearing aids

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown introduced a bill Thursday that would make Medicare cover hearing aids, a provision that he says he'll try to incorporate into broader health-care reform legislation being crafted by Congress.

Hearing aids are excluded from Medicare's basic coverage even though 30 percent of adults ages 65-74 have impaired hearing, as do nearly half of those older than 75.

"Too many seniors go without hearing aids because they cannot afford them," the Democrat from Avon said in a news release. "Hearing impairment is a health and quality-of-life issue, and Medicare must be improved to cover hearing aids and other treatment options."

The devices typically cost from $500 to $5,000, and Brown's office estimated they would cost the government about $500 each if bought in bulk. Brown observed that the Department of Veterans Affairs covers hearing aids for its beneficiaries and that free or discounted hearing aids are available for public health-care patients in other industrialized countries including Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Past legislative efforts to provide hearing aids to Medicare beneficiaries have stalled. AARP supports the idea, but Director of Federal Government Relations Nora Super predicts Brown will face difficulty unless he can find a way to pay for such an expensive benefit. She said many seniors participate in Medicare Advantage plans that pay for hearing aids.

"Cost is a huge issue associated with health-care reform, and unless Sen. Brown has an uncontroversial pay-for [way to pay for it], there may not be a strong chance of this passing," Super says.

Brown spokeswoman Meghan Dubyak says her boss is examining several ways the hearing aid purchases could be funded and is discussing them with Democratic leaders.

Earlier this year, Republican U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette of Bainbridge Township co-sponsored similar legislation in the House.

LaTourette says that he backs having Medicare pay for hearing aids but that he isn't sure whether the idea stands much chance of being included in upcoming health-care legislation because the bills under discussion call for $400 million to $500 billion in Medicare cuts.