The world of hearing healthcare may just get a little bigger for the millions of Americans on Medicare suffering from hearing loss. This comes after the introduction of a bipartisan bill called the Audiology Patient Choice Act by Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
This bill proposes expanding the pool of qualified healthcare professionals allowed to administer evaluation and treatment to patients in need. Currently, Medicare only allows the dispensing of hearing and balance care to be administered by a medical doctor specialist, and only after a written referral is issued from a general practice physician or nurse practitioner.
Currently, the narrow parameters in which Medicare recipients operate within to seek proper hearing and balance care has resulted in an underutilization of benefits. The majority of individuals suffering from hearing loss in the United States are over the age of 70. Yet of those over the age of 70 who are actively receiving Medicare benefits, most are not receiving the basics in hearing care, such as a basic hearing test.
The strict parameters in which hearing care is authorized lies in stark contrast to federal and private insurance plans which cast a much wider net on who is authorized to administer hearing and balance care to patients. This discrepancy in care has gained more attention as the pool of Medicare recipients continues to grow with the advancing age of the large baby boomer generation.
Efforts to change what many would view as outdated Medicare fine print has been bolstered by recent studies that have shown there is no evidence supporting the assumption that hearing and balance care would be insufficient if provided by any other hearing healthcare professional besides a physician specialist.
A 2010 study performed by the Mayo Clinic found that otologic disease was accurately diagnosed and referred to otolaryngology whenever appropriate by qualified hearing healthcare professionals.
Of those Medicare recipients who are receiving hearing and balance care within the network, only a small percentage are currently receiving assistive hearing technology. The Audiology Patient Choice Act would not change the scope of services provided to Medicare recipients. But, it would open up the network of qualified professionals authorized to administer hearing and balance treatment.
Instead of funneling all Medicare recipients with basic hearing care needs such as hearing tests and assistive hearing devices to medical doctors who are trained for that and more intensive issues, this legislation would allow highly educated, authorized, licensed hearing professionals to provide beneficial care that the majority of Medicare recipients require. This would then reserve those patients with specialized needs for medical specialists such as otolaryngologists.
These professionals who previously were ineligible for Medicare reimbursement could now seek reimbursement. This means, not only will the pool of services get bigger, access to these services will become much more attainable for millions of Medicare recipients suffering from hearing loss, especially those in rural areas where access to specialized doctors is limited.
For more information on available hearing services, please call our office today for an appointment.