Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hearing Dysfunction

As far as I know, Medicare does not pay for hearing aids, and if Medicare doesn’t pay then Medicare Supplements or Medicare Advantage plans will not pay. My Medicare Advantage plan will only pay $50 toward an annual hearing exam. For that matter I do not believe that any of the insurance plans approved by the Government under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will pay for hearing aids for the many who suffer from aural dysfunction.

A recent visit to an audiologist indicated that at age 75, I have suffered some hearing loss. My wife has been warning me of this for some time and likes to make fun of my many bloopers. Actually, in the audiologist’s waiting room a woman sitting next to me asked the receptionist, “Where are the cats?” I looked around and wondered if the doctor had cats that he let walk around the office. I finally asked the woman about the cats, and she replied that she had asked about her “cab” that was late in picking her up.

So, it was no surprise that the exam indicated some hearing loss, and that a hearing aid was recommended. The audiologist even offered a free two or three day trial to see if I liked them. It reminded me of the way in which pet shops would allow you to take a puppy or kitten home to see if you would like it. I guess most people decide that they like the hearing improvement.

Midway through my trial I’m not sure. These modern hearing aids are incredibly sophisticated and introduce you to a world of strange, unfamiliar sounds. The first day was really incredible. I never knew the rustling of my garments made so much noise, or that my footsteps were so loud. I never realized how deafening our old grandfather’s clock was, or how noisy it was flushing the toilet. Outside, I had never heard the neighbor’s kids screaming before.

Most incredible was the sound of my own voice. To me, I sounded like Darth Vader inside his helmut. It was like speaking through an amplifier with a slight delay. I do admit that by the second day it didn’t sound so bad.

Nevertheless, I’m not sure that I’ll go for the improvement in hearing. I am far from deaf and I can still have normal conversations with my wife despite the occasional bloopers. But I have come to realize that I sort of like my quiet world where lawn mowers or passing cars don’t sound so loud.

There is also the question of cost and that gets me back to my medical insurance. The tiny hearing devices will cost about $4000, and I believe that is in the mid range. Friends tell me they have paid almost twice that, and I’m sure there are some older models that are cheaper. The $4000 is more than the cost of my complicated and delicate eye surgery of a few years ago that was covered by Medicare.

It seems to me that a large bill like this is precisely what medical insurance is for. I see that my Medicare Advantage plan will pay for drugs like Viagra for those men who suffer from so-called erectile dysfunction. The ads are on TV every day. Why is erectile dysfunction more serious than aural dysfunction?

In the debate over the Affordable Care Act, President Obama insisted that his plan would rid the nation of sub-par plans. As far as I can tell, the only thing sub-par about these existing plans was that they did not cover the cost of contraceptives.  
Some politicians have claimed that the cost for a year’s supply of birth control pills can be $600. That is surely the high end since a web search indicated that birth control pills could cost from $15 to $50 per month. The same site indicated that organizations like Planned Parenthood sell them for much less. A letter writer to a newspaper argued that a month’s supply can be purchased at Walmart for $4.00.

Advocates argue that the pills are a necessary women’s health item. But toothpaste is also a necessary health item and no one suggests that it be covered by insurance. We expect everyone to purchase their own from the huge array that can be found on the shelves.

If I do decide on the hearing aids, I will pay for them myself even though they are a high cost item. I will make the decision on whether the potential benefit justifies the cost. I realize that there are a lot of people, especially seniors, in this country who have more serious hearing loss than me, and who cannot afford hearing aids.

Why were these people forced to pay for Viagra and contraceptives? How many, if given the option might have elected coverage that would restore their hearing? It’s too bad that there is no such thing as “aural” sex, for then hearing loss might be regarded as a more serious matter.


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