The loss of hearing is one of the most widespread conditions in America, yet many people who need them do not wear them. A significant reason that people give for this avoidance of hearing aids is the cost. It is true, the cost of hearing aids and maintenance can be substantial, although the improvement to the quality of one’s life is well worth the price. However, there is encouraging news. United Healthcare is now offering hearing aid insurance to expand hearing aid access to those who would not otherwise be able to purchase hearing aids. CareCredit is providing a new system that makes the process easier for the provider and the patient.
Hearing Health Insurance
United Healthcare Hearing will offer hearing health that is affordable for individuals, employer-based sponsor, and Medicare Advantage plan participants. Custom-programmed hearing aids will cost up to 80 percent less than the price of a device sold in the usual manner. Employers will be able to offer hearing health benefit plans that include a wide range of hearing aid options as well as access to a national network of hearing healthcare professionals. Participants with Medicare Advantage plans will be able to choose custom-programmed hearing aids with no out-of-pocket cost.
All of United Healthcare’s 25 million members will have access to hearing healthcare with more than 5,000 hearing healthcare professionals participating in the plan. The plan, which is known as UnitedHealthcare Hearing, is a merger between the largest provider of hearing insurance, EPIC hearing healthcare, and HealthInnovations, which is a direct-to-consumer provider of hearing aids. The company considers this an efficient way to improve the overall wellbeing of its participants.
Making hearing healthcare more accessible is also the goal of CareCredit. The credit provider is trying to help people get hearing aids as well as make the application process less of a hassle. CareCredit, in cooperation with the Blueprint Office Management System, is now providing more extensive assistance to patients applying for unique financing options. The goal is to enable hearing healthcare professionals the ability to save time and increase productivity. This new system allows CareCredit transactions to be written automatically back to the ledger which saves time and minimizes human error. The CareCredit application process is more straightforward as the information automatically transfers to the CareCredit application. The hearing healthcare professionals fill in a few additional fields of data and receive a decision quickly. Because cost keeps patients from getting the hearing aids they need, this arrangement provides easy access to financial assistance.
Increasing the accessibility of hearing health is vital. Many people need hearing aids, but few use them. People often cite cost as a deterrent for using hearing aids, and at an average price of $6,000 a pair, it is a sound reason. However, insurance plans and unique financing options may be changing things. Hopefully, improving accessibility to hearing aids will help all people who need hearing aids. This welcome news may help improve the hearing health and quality of life of countless individuals.
Healthcare is evolving. Holistic views of treating the whole person are gaining ground. The days of treating single isolated symptoms and health concerns without considering other systems of the body may soon be numbered.
A more holistic approach is now being explored by the Institute of Health Improvement (IHI) as a way to optimize the performance of our health system. That includes connecting interprofessional healthcare teams, including hearing healthcare providers, to provide optimal care to patients.
Improving health with team care
The Institute of Health Improvement is moving forward with an initiative to optimize healthcare in the United States. This approach is called the Quadruple Aim and includes four components:
- Improving the health of populations
- Enhancing the patient experience of care
- Reducing the per capita cost of health care
- Improving the work conditions of health care clinicians and staff
To do this, the IHI is exploring how best to connect health practitioners across disciplines.
Hearing healthcare providers on the team
There is no doubt that hearing is closely connected to so many other systems of the body. It has been linked to cardiovascular health, cognitive decline, diabetes, and moreover the years. In some cases, hearing loss is a symptom or early indicator of chronic disease, and sometimes a chronic disease is a cause of hearing loss. In other cases, hearing ability is found to be closely connected with acute health problems in one way or another. Either way, having a hearing healthcare professional on your healthcare team could prove invaluable when it comes to care and outcomes.
The Institute of Health Improvement began exploring just this solution in 2018 with a survey of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s (ASHA) Audiology Advisory Council. A 20-question online survey was completed by 104 members of ASHA’s Advisory Councils focusing on interprofessional work and education. The survey found:
- Almost 70% of those surveyed had engaged in interprofessional activity within the past 18 months.
- Audiologists reported engaging in interprofessional practice more often than in interprofessional education.
- Audiologists most frequently reported serving as team members in interprofessional teams, working most frequently with otolaryngologists, nurses, social workers, and SLPs.
Those surveyed also shared the benefits of interprofessional team collaborations they had seen including:
- Consensus building across professions for difficult treatment decisions
- Coordinated care for patients
- Streamlined treatment planning for patients
The results underscore the importance of hearing healthcare professionals as part of an interdisciplinary team to provide comprehensive and effective care to patients.
Where we go from here
Healthcare is changing, and surveys like this help to confirm the value of switching to a more connected and collaborative approach to healthcare. Hearing healthcare professionals such as audiologists play a vital role in this care that is only now becoming truly appreciated. They are able to identify acute health concerns and chronic disease early thanks to routine hearing evaluations and examinations for complaints such as dizziness or ringing in the ears and refer patients to other members of their healthcare team for further examination and treatment.
As hearing is so connected to many systems of the body, so should hearing healthcare providers be closely connected to other healthcare providers to offer the best outcomes for their patients.