News

Over-the-counter hearing aids do not help the public as promised. The far better answer is health insurance coverage for real hearing health care.

Over-the-counter sales of hearing aids are getting a big push in Congress.  Currently hearing aids are only available from licensed providers.  Proponents say over-the-counter sales will lower consumer hearing aid costs.  But opponents say over-the-counter hearing aids will end FDA consumer protections.  This places consumers at risk because they lose the guidance and safety of licensed providers.  Moreover, lower costs have not increased hearing aid use in the past.  Even people that get free hearing aids do not automatically use them.  There is a smarter way to lower consumer costs and help more people hear better.  Make health insurance cover real hearing health care.

over-the-counter hearing aids
Veterans pose outside Cape Ann Veterans Services with Beauport Hearing Care provider Judi Bergeron, BC-HIS. Hearing Partnership provided free services to veterans. Hearing coaching and local hearing aid services were more important to hearing aid adoption and treatment success than the cost of free VA-issued hearing aids.

Only about 15% of Americans that need hearing aids actually use them.  And studies show untreated hearing loss is driving up health care costs.  Untreated hearing loss is associated with early onset dementia.  Hearing loss is also associated with increased hospitalizations from falls.  Effective treatment lowers health care costs.

Most people feel health insurance should cover hearing health care. And why not since treating hearing loss lowers costs?  But special interests are pushing over-the-counter hearing aids instead.  There are public costs for this.  Consumers loose the guidance of licensed hearing care providers.  And they loose the protection of FDA rules that licensed providers must follow.   For example, FDA rules require licensed providers assess need for medical attention.  Moreover, many people need coaching to succeed with hearing aids.  Health insurance coverage of quality hearing health care would lower consumer costs.  Finally, insurance coverage of hearing coaching (i.e., aural rehabilitation) and tinnitus care would go a long way towards increasing hearing aid use.

Coaching Is More Important Than 'Free'

Special interests claim cost is the reason more people do not use hearing aids. They say hearing aids just cost too much.  Consumers can save money by testing themselves and picking their own devices.  But the evidence tells a very different story.  Even free hearing aids do not automatically result in more people using them.

Hearing aid use in countries where they are free is similar to their use in the United States.  And American veterans also get free hearing aids.  But veterans are no more likely to use hearing aids than other Americans that must pay for their hearing aids.  In addition, we see plenty of veterans in our Beauport Hearing Care practice with hearing aids that are not working.  But we get them working.

A Better Solution

Hearing Partnership conducted an informal experiment. We wanted to demonstrate a better solution.

over-the-counter
Fit to Serve became law in December 2016. This law aims to help veterans get easier access to hearing health care. Implementation of this law offers a perfect opportunity to model a better way to reform the hearing health care system.

Our Beauport Hearing Care practice provided services to veterans at no cost.  First of all, our idea was not to replace Veterans Administration (VA) audiology services.  Rather, we wanted to help veterans be successful.    Many veterans we helped were not wearing their free VA-issued hearing aids.  Furthermore, others had never tried hearing aids before.   Some veterans we served had mild to moderate hearing loss and others had more severe losses.  So we wanted to see if coaching and local hearing aid services increased success.  It did!  Most veterans needed coaching.  Some needed hearing aids fitted or adjusted.  All needed hearing aid cleaning.

The veterans that did not wear hearing aids before are now using their new VA-issued hearing aids.  Moreover, some of these veterans did not even know they were eligible for free hearing aids.  We guided them to the VA.  Most of all, every veteran said our extra help made the difference they needed.

Town Hall on Veterans Hearing Health Care

Veterans will speak publicly about their hearing health experiences at a special meeting on June 9th at Cape Ann Veterans Services.   The veterans want public officials to know how community-based hearing aid services changed their lives. (Click here to learn more details).

In conclusion, coaching provided with local hearing aid services are more important factors than cost alone!  There are many studies that confirm this conclusion.   It takes a community to fit a hearing aid.

Mild or Moderate Cases Often Need More Help

Hearing problems often involve neurological issues. As a result amplification alone does not address it.  But aural rehabilitation and other treatments do.  Every hearing loss case is unique.  Sometimes moderate cases need more help than severe cases. Occasionally medical referrals are recommended.  Moreover, some patients with moderate higher frequency hearing loss need amplification with less distortion in higher frequencies.  Therefore, cheaper devices aren't enough.   Consumers with any hearing loss deserve real help.  People need the guidance of licensed providers.

The Better Answer:  Health Insurance Coverage for Real Hearing Health Care

We call on advocates to promote health insurance coverage of hearing health care.  That is the best way to lower consumer costs and lower health care costs.  Most of all, people need quality hearing aids. And they need the help licensed professionals alone can provide.

Some advocates say they receive calls daily from consumers that can’t afford hearing aids.  But such calls are evidence of the need for health insurance coverage of real hearing health care.  They are not evidence that people want over-the-counter hearing aids.  People want help!

Call to Action

Tell Congress:  We Want Health Insurance Coverage – Not the false promise of Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids!

Oppose S.670/ H.R.1652, titled, "the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017”.  Make health insurance cover hearing aids and quality hearing health care.

Want to take action?  Click here for the International Hearing Society online action alert.

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The federal government’s National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine), concurred with the Hearing Partnership in a highly anticipated study published on June 2, 2016, Hearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability.

Hearing Partnership highlighted its vision of hearing care innovation to the National Academy in early 2014 and again in 2015.  The Hearing Partnership proposal appears in the study’s Recommendation #10, one of the Academy’s 12 recommendations contained in its Final Report.

David Bergeron traveled to Washington DC to represent the Hearing

David Bergeron, MM, CHW
David Bergeron, MM, CHW addressed the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in January 2014.

Partnership vision. He spoke at the very first meeting of the National Academies’ Committee on  Accessible and Affordable Hearing Health Care for Adults on January 14 and 15, 2014.  Hearing Partnership also submitted written comments in the record to the Academy immediately following its April 27, 2015 committee meeting.  See our written comments at http://hearingpartnership.org/?page_id=179.

David and Judi have traveled all over the country to meet with leaders of patient advocacy organizations, hearing health care professional organizations, and university researchers to promote the Hearing Partnership’s ‘community health worker’ vision.  David said, “We are very proud of our leadership in highlighting CHW services to improve patient access to hearing care. We hope the Academy's nod will encourage audiologists and hearing specialists everywhere to take a careful look at how this public health role can increase patients successfully accessing hearing care treatment.”

Beauport Hearing Care is Hearing Partnership’s model practice where we put our vision of care to work with our patients.  And our contract work with the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing aims to apply our approach to help Boston Marathon bombing survivors meet ongoing hearing care needs.

Beauport Hearing Care is the only private practice in the nation to integrate the services of an in-house professional CHW.  David said, “It all sounds fuzzy and academic when you talk about it.  But when patients arrive in our practice, they say, ‘Wow. This is really different!’”

GRAND OPENING & RIBBON CUTTING
Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Hearing Partnership is proud to announce the launch of its hearing instrument practice: Beauport Hearing Care in beautiful Magnolia, Massachusetts.  Hearing Partnership remains as committed as ever to its vision of hearing care trained community health workers.  Beauport Hearing Care is the practice-based venue for our research to improve patient quality outcomes and success in hearing health care.  Hearing Partnership and Beauport Hearing Care were joined by patients, friends and colleagues, public health officials and political leaders to celebrate the launch of our practice mission.

Click here to see the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce news release. 
Ribbon Cut

The Hearing Journal names the Hearing Partnership™ as one of three pioneering efforts to watch in U.S. hearing care. Hearing Partnership™ coaches function as ‘community health workers’ in public health academic terms; see the cover story in the May 2015 issue:   Read the article, “Community Health Workers Bridge Gap to Hearing Loss Treatment”.

Hearing Partnership co-founder David Bergeron introduces ‘community health workers’ in hearing care during remarks at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Annual Constituents’ Day at the Massachusetts Statehouse, April 14, 2015.
Hearing Partnership founder David Bergeron introduces ‘community health workers’ in hearing care during keynote remarks at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Annual Constituents’ Day at the Massachusetts Statehouse, April 14, 2015. Photo credit Diane Stotzer

Summary of Remarks given at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Annual Constituents’ Day at the Massachusetts Statehouse, April 14, 2015

Click here to view the event agenda.

I am happy to follow the students. Weren’t their presentations wonderful? They are the future.

I would like to thank Commissioner Reed, Deputy Commissioner Ford, and everyone at the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for their dedicated hard work. They are our Commission. They have to think and worry about 1 million people with some kind of hearing loss. With so many – I don’t know how they do it. Please join me in thanking our Commission. [David leads a round of applause].

When I think about the 1 million, I wonder how many audiologists, hearing instrument specialists, and other hearing care professionals we need to help all those people. They need help. How are we going to help them?

‘Community Health Workers’ can help. And I have 400 signatures on a petition supporting the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and their request for resources to research and promote ‘community health workers’ in particular. It was easy getting signatures. People said, “we support the Commission for the Deaf and hard of Hearing. What do they want to do?”

“They want to train deaf and hard of hearing patients to help other deaf and hard of hearing patients.”

Everyone thought this is a brilliant idea and signed our petition. It’s a simple idea. So, what do ‘community health workers’ do? They help connect patients to services and resources they need…if a patient needs a ride to their next audiologist appointment, a ‘community health worker’ can help with that. If a patient is confused about how to apply for health insurance or an insurance claim, a ‘community health worker’ can help with that. If a patient has questions about hearing assistive technology, a ‘community health worker’ can point the person to where they can find the information or provide the general information directly. It’s about the simple stuff that patients need to be successful to improve their quality of life and health. It’s about helping with the small things that make a big difference. And the people support this idea.

According to the US Health and Human Services, there are at least 120,000 ‘community health workers’ working across the country under a great many different job titles…120,000 in areas such as diabetes, oncology, general health, and more – but not in hearing health care. Not in hearing care. It’s impossible to imagine that so many people could be working in this capacity unless ‘community health workers’ are producing value and real benefit to patients. So why not in hearing care? Some people ask why. Bobby Kennedy said, “Some people ask, why, I ask, why not.” So, why not do this in hearing health care. We can do this.

Our Commission is to be congratulated for leadership in promoting research and development of ‘community health workers’ in hearing care. The Commission is leading.

I have over 400 signatures on a petition supporting the Commission’s request for resources to do this. I thank the Commission for leading on this important request. And I thank you for listening to me.

((Applause.  MCDHH Commissioner Heidi Reed joined Mr. Bergeron on stage to accept the petition signatures.))

Commissioner Reed said, "The goal of developing  Community Health Workers in hearing care is an important and innovative approach to helping  deaf and hard of hearing people access available services and treatment.”


Petition in Support of the
Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Request for Funding of Research and Deployment of
specialized hearing care ‘Community Health Workers’

We, the undersigned voters support the patients and family members of the 1 million legally deaf and hard of hearing people in the Commonwealth, and WE urge the Governor and members of the Legislature to support the request of the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to fund research and promotion of specialized hearing care ‘Community Health Workers’ (CHWs). CHWs are proven to help patients achieve better health.


David and Judi present petitions to Commissioner Reed
Photo credit Diane Stotzer

Judi Bergeron (left) and David Bergeron (right) present Commissioner Heidi Reed (center) of the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing with over 400 petition signatures in support of the Commission’s ‘community health worker’ initiative at the Statehouse on April 14, 2015.