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Healthcare Reform Legislation and the Hearing Health Community

Although the Hearing Aid Tax Credit is not part of healthcare reform legislation at this point, various House and Senate proposals would have an impact on hearing health if they were enacted. A provision in legislation drafted by three House committees would require "oral, health, vision, and hearing services, equipment, and supplies at least for children under 21 years of age" to be included in an Essential Benefits Package. If enacted, specifics related to the form of benefit would be determined by a newly created Health Benefits Advisory Committee that would report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Several provisions would, however, likely limit financial assistance that is currently available for people with hearing loss. The Senate has proposed significant cuts to the Medicare Advantage program. Known officially as Medicare+Choice or "Part C," Medicare Advantage is a collection of private health insurance plans available to existing Medicare beneficiaries. While legally obligated to provide a package equal to traditional Medicare, Part C plans sometimes cover services excluded from Medicare such as hearing aid benefits. Cuts to Medicare Advantage funding would likely impact those programs' ability to offer hearing aid coverage as part of their policies. Similarly, proposed cuts to Flexible Spending Accounts would also limit the ability of people with hearing loss to purchase hearing aids using pre-tax FSA funds.

Also, as previously noted, the Senate Finance Committee has exempted Class I devices from its medical device fee proposal which would otherwise raise $40billion over 10 years from medical device manufacturers. HIA had urged SFC to exempt hearing aids from the proposed fee for a variety of reasons. The House is likely to consider a similar provision in the coming weeks, and it is uncertain whether they would also adopt the same Class I exemption. HIA is working to urge the House to continue to exempt hearing aids from any device fee proposals.

It is not certain which of these provisions, if any, will be included in final legislation approved by both chambers.

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