WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have introduced the bipartisan Medicare Audiology Access Improvement Act, aiming to grant Medicare beneficiaries access to comprehensive hearing and balance healthcare services provided by licensed audiologists across all states and territories.
The bill, co-sponsored by several other senators, seeks to address the significant impact of hearing loss on millions of Americans, especially older adults, who also face higher risks of developing Alzheimer’s Disease and experiencing loneliness and isolation. Despite Medicare already covering some hearing health services, audiologists are not recognized as providers, leading to limited reimbursement options and the need for a physician or nurse practitioner’s order to access certain tests for hearing or balance disorders.
“I’m proud to have improved access to high-quality and affordable hearing aids by shepherding the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids Act through Congress in 2017 and holding the U.S. Food & Drug Administration accountable to implement the law. I’ve seen firsthand the importance of accessing audiology services, which is why I’m glad to support this bill to make it easier for seniors to get help from an audiologist.”
—Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
“Outdated Medicare rules make it difficult for seniors with hearing loss to gain access to the critical services audiologists provide,” said Senate co-sponsor, Elizabeth Warren. “I’m glad to be partnering with my colleagues in the Senate to reduce barriers to care and ensure that older Americans and people with disabilities have access to the full range of care they need.”
Improving Access to Hearing and Balance Care
The Medicare Audiology Access Improvement Act is supported by the American Academy of Audiology (AAA), Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), and National Association of Rural Health Clinics.
“The Medicare Audiology Access Improvement Act will bring Medicare policies into alignment with evidence-based practices in the delivery of hearing and balance care,” said Dawn Heiman, Au.D., ADA President. “We applaud Senator Warren, Senator Paul, and Senator Grassley for leading Congressional efforts to optimize outcomes for beneficiaries and the Medicare system.”
“Advancing this legislation is necessary to remove outdated barriers that prevent older Americans from receiving the hearing health and balance care coverage that they need and deserve. Treating hearing loss and balance disorders improves an individual’s ability to communicate and connect with loved ones, decreases risk for falls, and results in a greater overall quality of life. Passage of this cost-effective legislation will give patients timely access to the services critical to accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.”
–AAA President, Virginia Ramachandran, AuD, PhD
The bill is an updated version of similar legislation introduced in previous Congresses that reflects input from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and would:
Specifically, the Medicare Audiology Access Improvement Act:
- Amends the definition of “audiology services” in the Medicare statute, which specifies the services that audiologists may provide, to include all services already covered by Medicare that are also within an audiologist’s scope of practice;
- Amends the Medicare definition of practitioner to include audiologists, which improves beneficiary access to audiologic and vestibular care, a change that is consistent with Medicare’s classification of similar health care providers such as clinical social workers and clinical psychologists;
- Makes technical changes to remove the pre-treatment order requirement, which does not exist with any other federal or commercial payer;
- Ensures seniors and people with disabilities can receive the full scope of audiology services covered by Medicare at Rural Health Centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers; and
- Makes no changes to the scope of hearing health benefits covered by Medicare or the scope of practice of audiologists.
Similar legislation secured significant bipartisan, bicameral support in previous Congresses, most recently garnering 54 cosponsors in the House and eight in the Senate during the 117th Congress. Key provisions to allow reimbursement for treatment services and provide practitioner status were also included in legislation passed by the House in 2021.
Full bill text can be read here.