policy / research

Medicare

Established in 1965, Medicare is the federal health insurance program that provides benefits to individuals age 65 and older and individuals with disabilities. Currently, Medicare consists of four parts:

 

  • Part A: includes hospital visits and inpatient care
  • Part B: includes outpatient and physician services, as well as some preventive services
  • Part C: includes Medicare Advantage
  • Part D: covers prescription drugs

 

Originally created to address high-cost health care, Medicare statutorily excluded hearing care, dental, and vision from coverage – exclusions the program maintains today. Even Medicare supplemental insurance (Medigap), which is private health insurance intended to pay for costs and services that original Medicare does not cover, generally does not extend coverage to hearing aids.  With 10,000 baby boomers reaching the age of 65 every single day and studies showing that one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss, hearing health coverage is more important than ever.

 

Medicare Advantage (or Part C) is a private health insurance offering where Medicare pays a set per person amount to the Medicare Advantage plan, with individuals responsible for any additional premiums, depending on the plan they select. Medicare Advantage includes the benefits of original Medicare (Parts A and B) and typically provides additional coverage options for hearing, dental, and vision. In fact, over 80% of Medicare Advantage plans offer hearing, dental, vision, or wellness benefits and over half of Medicare Advantage plans include all four.

 

Medicare covers an increasingly large part of the population as the baby boomer generation ages into the program. Currently, over 62.9 million Americans are enrolled in Medicare. Of that, over 37.5 million are enrolled in original Medicare and over 25.4 million individuals – or one in three – are opting to enroll in Medicare Advantage and other health plans. Of those individuals enrolled in Medicare Advantage, nine out of 10 report that they are satisfied with their coverage.

 

According to a recent survey of American consumers, approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. Hearing loss is associated with higher rates of isolation, depression, dementia, and falls that require hospitalization. Just mild hearing loss doubles the risk of dementia, while those with severe loss are 5 times more likely to develop dementia. Research shows a link between hearing loss and other serious health issues, yet Medicare only provides diagnostic hearing and balance exams if ordered by a physician and does not extend to hearing aids or hearing tests.

 

Hearing Health in Congress

 

Healthcare is expected to remains a priority for the 117th Congress (2021-2022). With an expected average growth of over 7% in Medicare program costs over the next decade and enrollment expected to reach 80 million individuals by 2030, Congress is also looking ahead to improving Medicare.

 

In the previous 116th Congress (2019-2020), multiple bills were introduced to expand Medicare coverage to hearing evaluations, services, and treatment. Certain bills solely address hearing health coverage, while others more broadly address hearing, dental, and vision coverage. The House of Representatives passed H.R. 3, a bill to lower drug costs that included a provision expanding Medicare to include hearing benefits, but the Senate did not bring this legislation up for a vote. While legislation to expand Medicare to cover hearing services and treatment was not adopted in the 116th Congress, these measures set the marker for future consideration of Medicare coverage.

 

Current Legislation in the 117th Congress 

 

H.R. 1118, Medicare Hearing Aid Coverage Act: A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to remove the exclusion of Medicare coverage for hearing aids and examinations. This measure also requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study and issue a report to Congress on programs providing assistance for hearing aids and examinations, and programs to reduce or mitigate hearing loss. Sponsor: Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI). Cosponsors: Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). Referred to: Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means.

 

H.R. 1106, Help Extend Auditory Relief (HEAR) Act: The HEAR ACT would amend the Social Security Act to include Medicare coverage for hearing rehabilitation, including a comprehensive audiology to determine if a hearing aid is appropriate. It would also extend Medicare Part B coverage to hearing aid devices. Sponsor: Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA). Cosponsors: Reps. Tony Cardenas (D-CA), John Katko (R-NY), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Betty McCollum (D-MN), David McKinley (R-WV), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Mark Takano (D-CA), Mike Thompson (D-CA). Referred to: Energy and Commerce.

 

H.R. 1587, Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act: The MAASA Act provides certain coverage of audiologist services under the Medicare program. Sponsor: Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC). Cosponsors: Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Don Young (R-AK), Tom Cole (R-OK), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Lauren Underwood (D-IL), Ralph Norman (R-SC), Steve Cohen (D-TN), David McKinley (R-WV), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Susan Wild (D-PA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), Peter Welch (D-VT), John Rutherford (R-FL), Thomas Massie (R-KY), John Yarmuth (D-KY), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Lucy McBath (D-GA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Janice Schakowsky (D-IL), Bill Foster (D-IL), Judy Chu (D-CA), William Timmons (R-SC), Jefferson Van Drew (R-NJ), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-GA), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA). Referred to: Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means.

 

Legislation in the 116th Congress (2019-2020)

 

H.R. 3, Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 12, 2019.

 

Introduced by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), H.R. 3 was the priority healthcare bill from the House in the 116th Congress, to lower prescription drug prices and expand Medicare to include hearing, dental, and vision benefits. Specific to coverage for hearing care and severe to profound hearing loss, H.R. 3 included hearing aids as prosthetic devices and addressed application of the competitive acquisition process. This legislation also set forth certain limitations, such as covering hearing aids not more than once during a 5-year period, only for hearing aids that are not over-the-counter hearing aids, and only by written order of a physician or audiologist. While H.R. 3 passed the House of Representatives on December 12, 2019, by a bipartisan vote of 230-192, it was not considered by the Senate.

 

H.R. 4618, Medicare Hearing Act of 2019

Introduced by Reps. Lucy McBath (D-GA) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI), this measure was largely incorporated into H.R. 3 and provided coverage for hearing aids and examinations under Medicare. As in H.R. 3, this measure classified hearing aids as prosthetic devices, established payment and frequency limitations, and addressed competitive acquisition.  Status at the end of the 116th Congress: Reported (Amended) by the House Committee on Ways and Means and reported by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Cosponsors (6): Reps. Dingell (D-MI), Castor (D-FL), Cuellar (D-TX), Norton (D-DC), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Welch (D-VT).

 

H.R. 1518, Medicare Hearing Aid Coverage Act of 2019

Introduced by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), this bipartisan bill amended the Medicare title of the Social Security Act to include coverage for hearing aids and examinations. This measure also required the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study and issue a report to Congress on programs providing assistance for hearing aids and examinations, and programs to reduce or mitigate hearing loss. Status at the end of the 116th Congress: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Ways and Means. Cosponsors (10): Reps. Kilmer (D-WA), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Schakowsky (D-IL), McCollum (D-MN), Kaptur (D-OH), Matsui (D-CA), DeLauro (D-CT), Lofgren (D-CA), Doggett (D-TX), Fitzpatrick (R-PA).

 

H.R. 4056, Medicare Audiologist and Services Act of 2019

A bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC), this measure included Medicare coverage of and access to audiology services and classifies audiologists as practitioners. Many provisions of this bill were included in the amended version of H.R. 4618, the Medicare Hearing Act, as passed by the House Committee on Ways and Means. Status at the end of the 116th Congress: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Ways and Means. Cosponsors (65): Cartwright (D-PA), Meadows (R-NC), Norman (R-SC), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Schakowsky (D-IL), Schneider (D-IL), Kuster (D-NH), Bilirakis (R-FL), Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Shalala (D-FL), Grijalva (D-AZ), Khanna (D-CA), Cohen (D-TN), Pappas (D-NH), Chu (D-CA), Simpson (R-ID), Ruppersberger (D-MD), Massie (R-KY), Sewell (D-AL), Kildee (D-MI), Glenn Thompson (R-PA), Foster (D-IL), McKinley (R-WV), Smucker (R-PA), Reschenthaler (R-PA), Soto (D-FL), Lipinski (D-IL), Butterfield (D-NC), Stevens (D-MI), Trone (D-MD), Underwood (D-IL), McCollum (D-MN), Craig (D-MN), Abraham (R-LA), Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Ryan (D-OH), Gosar (R-AZ), Max Rose (D-NY), Doyle (D-PA), O’Halleran (D-AZ), Hollingsworth (R-IN), Cole (R-OK), Cisneros (D-CA), McBath (D-GA), Webster (R-FL), Hastings (D-FL), Amodei (R-NV), Young (R-AK), Welch (D-VT), Lowey (D-NY), Sherman (D-CA), Yarmuth (D-KY), Neguse (D-CO), Dean (D-PA), Gottheimer (D-NJ), Fortenberry (R-NE), Himes (D-CT), Susan Davis (D-CA), McGovern (D-MA), Horn (D-OK), Hern (R-OK), Raskin (D-MD), Holding (R-NC), Rutherford (R-FL).

 

S. 2446, Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act of 2019

The Senate companion bill to H.R. 4056, this bipartisan bill was introduced by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rand Paul (R-KY), and included access to audiology services under Medicare. Status at the end of the 116th Congress: Referred to the Senate Committee on Finance. Cosponsors (8): Sens. Paul (R-KY), Brown (D-OH), Wicker (R-MS), Sinema (D-AZ), Shaheen (D-NH), King (I-ME), Leahy (D-VT), Collins (R-ME).

 

H.R. 576, Seniors Have Eyes, Ears, and Teeth Act

Introduced by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), this measure expanded Medicare coverage to eyeglasses, hearing aids, and dental care. Status at the end of the 116th Congress: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Ways and Means. Cosponsors (86): Reps. Aguilar (D-CA), Beatty (D-OH), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Blumenauer (D-OR), Bonamici (D-OR), Boyle (D-PA), Brownley (D-CA), Bustos (D-IL), Carson (D-IN), Chu (D-CA), Cicilline (D-RI), Clarke (D-NY), Cohen (D-TN), Connolly (D-VA), Correa (D-CA), DeFazio (D-OR), DeLauro (D-CT), DelBene (D-WA), DeSaulnier (D-CA), Deutch (D-FL), Dingell (D-MI), Espaillat (D-NY), Foster (D-IL), Gallego (D-AZ), Garamendi (D-CA), Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX), Grijalva (D-AZ), Heck (D-WA), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Jackson Lee (D-TX), Robin Kelly (D-IL), Kilmer (D-WA), Langevin (D-RI), Larsen (D-WA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Loebsack (D-IA), Lowenthal (D-CA), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Matsui (D-CA), McCollum (D-MN), McEachin (D-VA), Meng (D-NY), Moore (D-WI), Moulton (D-MA), Napolitano (D-CA), Norton (D-DC), O’Halleran (D-AZ), Pocan (D-WI), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Ruiz (D-CA), Rush (D-IL), Ryan (D-OH), Sablan (D-MP)< Sarbanes (D-MD), Schakowsky (D-IL), Schiff (D-CA), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Serrano (D-NY), Sewell (D-AL), Sherman (D-CA), Soto (D-FL), Suozzi (D-NY), Swalwell (D-CA), Takano (D-CA), Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Titus (D-NV), Tonko (D-NY), Torres (D-CA), Veasey (D-TX), Vela (D-TX), Velazquez (D-NY), Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Welch (D-VT), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Peters (D-CA), Lieu (D-CA), Kaptur (D-OH), Bass (D-CA), Barragan (D-CA), Doggett (D-TX), Al Green (D-TX), Castor (D-FL), Haaland (D-NM), Finkenauer (D-IA).

 

H.R. 1393, Medicare Dental, Vision, and Hearing Benefit Act of 2019

Introduced by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), this measure included vision, dental, and hearing aid coverage under Medicare. The hearing provision included coverage of audiology and hearing services, as well as coverage for hearing aids and classified hearing aids as durable medical equipment. The bill phased in the payment amount over 8 years, peaking at 80%. Status at the end of the 116th Congress: Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Ways and Means. Cosponsors (52): Reps. Chu (D-CA), Grijalva (D-AZ), Khanna (D-CA), Andy Levin (D-MI), McCollum (D-MN), Moore (D-WI), Norton (D-DC), Sewell (D-AL), Pingree (D-ME), Lewis (D-GA), Blumenauer (D-OR), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Schakowsky (D-IL), Kaptur (D-OH), Tonko (D-NY), Serrano (D-NY), Mike Levin (D-CA), Ruiz (D-CA), Lujan (D-NM), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Titus (D-NV), Suozzi (D-NY), Ryan (D-OH), McGovern (D-MA), Trone (D-MD), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Nadler (D-NY), Evans (D-PA), Dingell (D-MI), DeFazio (D-OR), Pocan (D-WI), Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Perlmutter (D-CO), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Cohen (D-TN), DeLauro (D-CT), Meng (D-NY), Napolitano (D-CA), Porter (D-CA), Speier (D-CA), Yarmuth (D-KY), Payne (D-NJ), Sablan (D-MP), Trahan (D-MA), Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL), Cartwright (D-PA), Langevin (D-RI), Raskin (D-MD), Takano (D-CA), Lowenthal (D-CA), Hayes (D-CT).

 

S. 1423, Medicare and Medicaid Dental, Vision, and Hearing Benefit Act of 2019

Introduced by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), this measure included vision, dental, and hearing aids under Medicare. This measure is similar to H.R. 1393, the Medicare Dental, Vision, and Hearing Benefit Act. Status at the end of the 116th Congress: Referred to the Senate Committee on Finance. Cosponsor (1): Sen. Cardin (D-MD).

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