After talking with United Healthcare, AAA and ADA say their concerns remain

David Kirkwood
February 29, 2012

As observed here last week, recent meetings between leaders of several professional hearing healthcare organizations and executives of United Healthcare (UHC) and its subsidiary hi HealthInnovations (UHC/HI) seem to have done little to resolve the issues that divide them.

The key area of disagreement is the new hearing aid benefit being offered to consumers covered by UHC’s Medicare Advantage insurance plans. That benefit includes an online hearing test and the chance to purchase online relatively inexpensive hearing devices, which are made for UHC by IntriCon Corp.

The main sticking point is that all the professional associations of hearing care providers are agreed that the direct, personal involvement of a qualified professional is essential to a safe and effective hearing aid fitting. Thus, the UHC plan, which would allow purchasers to bypass the professional in obtaining hearing aids, is anathema to practitioners, whether they are audiologists, hearing instrument specialists, or ENT physicians.



Last week, the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) and the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) posted similar reports on their web sites about the meeting with UHC that they co-hosted on January 31. Their statements point to the wide gulf between the two academies and UHC.


Issues raised but not resolved

According to the report as it appears on the AAA web site, representatives of the two academies told UHC about the concerns that their audiologist members had raised about its new online testing and dispensing process. These issues included:

  • The lack of professional intervention at any level;
  • Doubts about the validity and reliability of the online hearing test (“especially since the ‘test’ incorporated only two air-conduction frequencies upon which the ‘customized’ hearing device programs would be based”);
  • The assumption by the UHC team that the device was the “cure”;
  • The need to address conductive/mixed losses and other medically relevant issues such as asymmetry;
  • The dispensing of hearing aids without a license; and
  • Follow-up care.

While AAA notes that the company’s representatives addressed many of these issues during the meeting, it states, “UHC/HI did not provide enough information or demonstrate any action that alleviates our concerns about their hearing device delivery model and its impact on patient care and both short and long term patient outcomes.”

The academy further notes, “UHC/HI contends that their… delivery model meets current state licensure and federal regulatory requirements.” However, the AAA statement adds, “Many questions remain as to the validity of this assertion, and this is being explored by the AAA and the ADA, as well as other organizations in terms of licensure requirements and adherence to current regulatory issues such as FDA regulations in terms of device labeling, etc.”



In the closing section of the report, AAA and ADA state, “We all know that professional intervention is the critical component that maximizes the treatment outcome for each patient, and this in turn results in improved quality of life for the individual.

“To this end, we will continue to pursue a thorough understanding of the hi HealthInnovations program and its impact on our patients and we will work to ensure that patient care is delivered in a manner that is aligned with best practices.”

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