It’s no secret that hearing loss can adversely affect quality of life. If you’re avoiding social situations because you can’t hear well, or find yourself cranking up the TV louder than you used to, it may be time for hearing aids.
Hearing aids are the first line of defense for correcting hearing loss, but can be expensive. For premium hearing aids, the average cost is $2,000-$3,000 per device.
Getting insurance to cover the cost of hearing aids was once an impossible dream, but now, there are more options for coverage than in years past.
First, do you have Medicare?
Hearing loss becomes more common as people age, so it might seem like a no-brainer that Medicare would cover the cost of hearing aids. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. When it comes to vision, dental and hearing care, traditional Medicare doesn't offer much coverage for older adults. If you have supplemental insurance, however, it may pay for some or all of these services, depending on your plan.
Read more: Medicare and hearing aids.
What about Medicaid?
In every U.S. state, children's hearing aids are covered by Medicaid. For adults, Medicaid coverage varies by state and eligibility is subject to change. This page from the Hearing Loss Association of America lets you look up Medicaid coverage for hearing care by state.
You can also contact your state’s Medicaid program or visit Medicaid's national website for more information.
Do you have insurance through work?
If so, here are the steps to take
Hearing aid coverage through private insurers varies by plan, and plan level. Many companies offer tiered coverage options that their employees can choose from. Each tier contains different benefit levels, as well as out-of-pocket costs, explains Blaire Driscoll, a practice administrator for Gardner Audiology in Tampa, FL.
If you’re a government employee or work for a large corporation, you may already be in luck.
“These types of workplaces typically have hearing aid benefits that are very good. Of course, deductibles and coinsurance out-of-pocket costs will also apply,” she adds.
If you're not sure, reach out to your human resources department to find out what, if any, hearing coverage you have. You also may want to contact your benefits company for help clarifying what you are and aren’t covered for.
If you work for a company that doesn’t offer any hearing aid coverage, speaking up may help you to obtain that benefit.
“Hearing aids can help you be more efficient at work. Talk to HR or your payroll department about your need for this service. In some cases, they may carve out a benefit for you,” Driscoll recommends.
Coverage varies by health plan
Even if you have it, insurance coverage for hearing aids varies in the way it is administered. Here are some real-life benefit types for hearing aids:
Hearing aid coverage within a plan also may vary according to geographic location. For example, Kaiser Permanente offers a hearing aid benefit with a credit per ear option available every 36 months. This benefit is specifically available in the Colorado service area, but not in Oregon, Washington, Ohio, Georgia, Maryland, Virginia, or Washington DC areas. They state that there is potentially a benefit available in Hawaii and California, but users are encouraged to check on the type of coverage available.
Suggested questions for your benefits provider
Ask these questions when you call your insurance company about hearing aids:
How to find a provider who accepts your insurance
As with any healthcare condition, you may have to do some digging before you find an audiologist, hearing instrument specialist (HIS) or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor who accepts your insurance plan.
Driscoll recommends asking what insurance plans your hearing care provider takes before making an appointment. She also suggests empowering yourself by asking your insurance company which providers are in their network.
“Audiologists and ENTs usually accept some insurance plans. Companies that sell hearing aids online don’t always take insurance,” she explains.
Driscoll also notes that United Healthcare and Blue Cross Blue Shield are examples of insurance companies that work with third-party administrators (TPAs) to offer hearing aids to their beneficiaries. Large TPAs include Birdsong Hearing, TruHearing, Epic Hearing Healthcare, and Amplifon Hearing Health care.
Do you have insurance via a union or retirement plan?
Union members and their dependents usually have access to hearing care coverage. “All union plans have some sort of hearing aid coverage, and it’s usually very good,” says Driscoll.
Most union plans, including retirement benefit plans, pay out a portion of the cost of hearing aids through direct reimbursement. This means you pay for your hearing aids and fitting up front, and then submit your bill to the union for reimbursement. There may be a cap on your reimbursement amount.
To make hearing aids affordable, many union plans have a list of preferred providers who give discounts or free examinations.
If you worked for the federal government, find out if you're eligible for the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program through Blue Cross Blue Shield (BC/BS), they will cover up to $2,500 for hearing aids every three years.
Do you have insurance through TRICARE or the VA?
Active military personnel and their families have hearing aid coverage through TRICARE, provided that their hearing loss meets specific hearing criteria. You’ll need to be diagnosed with hearing loss through a TRICARE-approved audiologist or physician.
The VA is the largest provider of hearing aids in the United States. If you are a veteran or have a service connection, check with your local VA to see whether you qualify for benefits and hearing-related services, including the provision of hearing aids.
State-mandated coverage for hearing aids
Currently, about 23 states mandate health insurance companies provide full or partial hearing aid coverage for children. Five states (Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island) also extend those mandates to adults.
State-mandated health care coverage for hearing aids will vary from state to state and several states have legislation about hearing aid coverage pending. If your state does mandate coverage, you will need to do a little research to find out about the amount covered and how often a claim can be made, as well as any other qualifiers for the coverage. Your hearing care professional can often provide some guidance as you search.
Workers' compensation for hearing loss
If your hearing is damaged on the job, you may be entitled to workers' compensation to help cover the cost of hearing aids and other treatments.
Social security benefits for hearing loss
If your hearing loss is affecting your ability to work, you may be eligible for assistance through the Social Security trust fund.
Hearing aids are tax deductible, as are most medical expenses. Your employer also may offer a health savings account (HSA), which lets you withdraw pre-tax dollars to pay for hearing aids. You can also use an HSA for hearing aid batteries, repairs and maintenance.
Discount programs for hearing aids
You may qualify for discounts on your hearing aid purchase through your association with various memberships, such as AARP, AAA, your health plan, your vision plan or your union affiliation. Explore your options to find the best value.
I need a hearing aid but can't afford it
Charitable and other assistance programs
Do you need help for hearing aids, or other hearing care assistance? There are many charitable groups that will provide new or used hearing aids at a discount, or even free, if you meet the financial criteria. We have provided a list of national programs below, but this is not an exhaustive list of organizations. We also recommend reviewing the financial assistance page from HLAA, the Hearing Loss Association of America.
State vocational rehabilitation programs
If hearing aids are required for employment, your state vocational rehabilitation office may offer assistance to pay for hearing aids or educational opportunities to improve your skill set. Search online for “[your state] vocational rehabilitation program” to find what you need.
Travelers Protective Association of America Scholarship Trust for the Hearing Impaired
3755 Lindell Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63108
Hearing aid financing
If you are unable to get a third party to help pay for your hearing aids, you can consider programs that provide short-term loans or payment plans. Check with your hearing care provider for more details or consult with the following programs.
CareCredit is a patient finance program. CareCredit works like a credit card but is exclusive for healthcare services. It is accepted by over 75,000 providers in a wide range of services including hearing care, vision care, veterinary medicine, dentistry, cosmetic surgery and more. They offer monthly payment options, no up-front costs to patients, no prepayment penalties and no annual fees. Short-term, no-interest plans are available as well as longer term plans with fixed interest rates. A CareCredit card can be used for hearing tests, hearing check-ups, hearing devices and fittings, implants, tinnitus care, ear protection and earmolds.
Insurance help for implantable hearing systems
Other ways to get help with hearing aid costs
For people with hearing loss, hearing aids can be a lifeline. If you don’t have adequate insurance coverage, don’t give up. Shop around to see if you can find audiologists or hearing aid specialists that offer low costs or discounts.
In some instances, over-the-counter hearing aids may be a good option for you. OTC hearing aids are designed to fit the needs of people with mild to moderate hearing loss. They typically cost hundreds, instead of thousands of dollars.
Other avenues may help with reduced costs or payment plans, such as:
Help with amplified telephones
Many states have telecommunication distribution programs for people with hearing loss who require special equipment to use the telephone. These programs loan or provide Text Telephones (TTYs), amplified telephones and other equipment free of charge to residents with hearing loss or other disabilities that require it. A listing of programs by state can be found at www.tedpa.org using the “State Directory” link. Contact your state program for more information about what equipment is provided, who is eligible for it and how to obtain it.
Find a hearing care provider near you
The information you find online about hearing aid insurance and funding can get you pointed in the right direction for finding hearing aid payment assistance. However, the best help for navigating your particular financial situation and your best resource for hearing aid funding sources will come from a local hearing care professional. Contact a hearing health professional in your area for help.