WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a recent Senate Finance Committee markup of the Better Mental Health Care, Lower-Cost Drugs, and Extenders Act, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) emphasized the importance of prioritizing hearing health for seniors and enhancing transparency in Medicare Advantage.
During the session, she secured commitments from Senate Finance Committee leadership to address these issues in future legislative packages.
Medicare Audiology Access Improvement Act
In July, Senator Warren, along with Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), introduced the Medicare Audiology Access Improvement Act. This legislation aims to ensure that seniors and individuals with disabilities covered by Medicare have access to a comprehensive range of hearing and balance health care services.
The proposed law would empower licensed audiologists, operating in all 50 states and U.S. territories, including the District of Columbia, to deliver services within their scope of practice.
“There is significant research demonstrating the link between hearing health and mental well-being. In our efforts to bolster support for seniors’ mental health and acuity, we must include access to healthcare addressing hearing and balance disorders.”
–Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
During committee markup, Senator Warren highlighted the correlation between hearing health and mental health, underscoring the potential for untreated hearing loss to lead to depression, anxiety, loneliness, and even dementia,
She noted the substantial research linking hearing health with mental health and cited the following statistics:
- Untreated hearing loss has been shown to lead to depression, anxiety, loneliness, and social isolation.
- Studies also suggest that hearing loss may be one of the greatest risk factors for developing dementia.
- Seniors with hearing loss experience cognitive decline up to 40 percent faster than those with normal hearing, and
- Older adults with moderate or severe hearing loss are three and five times more likely, respectively, to develop dementia.
The Medicare Audiology Access Improvement Act attempts to address these concerns by allowing audiologists to offer services covered by Medicare, promoting comprehensive hearing and balance care for beneficiaries.
Commitments to Support MAAIA Efforts
During the committee markup, Senator Warren sought a commitment from the Committee’s Chairman and Ranking Member to collaborate on advancing the bipartisan Medicare Audiology Access Improvement Act in future legislative efforts.
Senator Ron Wyden and Senator Mike Crapo expressed support for addressing the issue of hearing health for seniors. Senator Wyden acknowledged the limited coverage for hearing services under Medicare and affirmed the need to work collaboratively on a solution.
“You know, I was just trying to get from the staff a little bit of an update on what is actually out there now. Other than the cochlear implants, there is very little. I will just tell my colleagues a 10 second story. When I taught gerontology and got a few hundred dollars coming in to do the Gray Panthers, I would give an exam what Medicare covered, and people would always say it’s only half a loaf because it does not cover hearing and many other kinds of services.”
–Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Senator Warren concluded the discussion by emphasizing the necessity of prioritizing hearing health for seniors, suggesting an expansion of Medicare hearing coverage. She urged, at the very least, ensuring that Medicare beneficiaries can easily access the complete array of hearing services already covered by the program.
Source: Office of Sen. Elizabeth Warren