In June 2019, UnitedHealthcare announced the launch of UnitedHealthcare Hearing, which it said would offer “all consumers, including people enrolled in the company’s individual, employer-sponsored and Medicare Advantage plans, greater access to affordable, quality hearing health”.
UnitedHealthcare Hearing network brings together EPIC Hearing Healthcare, which the company acquired from Sonova in 2018, and hi HealthInnovations, a home-delivery hearing healthcare subsidiary of UHC, originally launched in 2012. The network offers hearing health services including a full product portfolio for retail customers and Medicare Advantage, Part D, Group Retiree and Employer & Individual members.
Since its initial launch, the UHC Hearing division continues to witness significant growth into 2023 – so much that some industry insiders have claimed that UHC Hearing is distributing enough hearing aids to rival Costco, which has been among the largest providers of hearing aids in the US for many years.
UHC Hearing Aid Program Overview
UnitedHealthcare Hearing is said to be supported by a large network of hearing care professionals and distribution relationships with major hearing technology manufacturers (“name brand” devices, such as Oticon, ReSound, Starkey, Widex, etc).
The product offerings available to individuals will vary based on the health plan type.
UHC Relate Brand Hearing Aids
With the launch of the UnitedHealthcare Hearing program came a new private-label brand of hearing aids, manufactured by Unitron for UHC: RELATETM.
The new Relate brand updated its offering beginning on January 1, 2021 to begin offering rechargeable models – previously unavailable. With the update, most Relate1.0 models have been replaced with Relate2.0.
Now in its 3rd iteration, the Relate3.1 offers technology in 2 levels: ‘Silver’ and ‘Gold’. The Silver model is only available as a Behind-The-Ear (BTE) or Receiver in Canal (RIC) style.
The ‘Gold’ level devices are available in 4 standard models, as well as custom styles.
Available wireless accessories for compatible Relate hearing aid models include :
Care Options: In Person Care, OTC or At-Home Delivery
UHC allows its members to access hearing aids through three different care options – in-person visit, over the counter, or virtual care at home. The company expanded their virtual, direct to consumer offering in 2021 (Right2You Virtual Care), by offering both the Relate brand of hearing aids, as well as Phonak devices.
***UPDATE: According to a recent company announcement, UHC plans to discontinue it’s virtual fitting option starting in January 2024. See below for more details***
According to the company, Right2You virtual care at home includes:
• Virtual appointments with a licensed UnitedHealthcare Hearing professional, including
remote hearing aid adjustments
• Custom-programmed hearing aids delivered directly to your home
• Three online follow-up visits after hearing aid purchase*
*Hearing aids purchased in the Basic technology level receive 1 virtual follow-up visit.
In-person care includes hearing aid fitting and support visits at a network provider in your area, including:
• In-person appointments with a licensed UnitedHealthcare Hearing professional, including
hearing aid adjustments
• Choice of 2,000+ hearing aid models and styles from the industry’s top brands
• Three in-person follow-up visits after hearing aid purchase
Over The Counter (OTC) Hearing Aids
While it was many years in the making, the FDA released its long-awaited final regulations for over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids in 2022, which made them available to consumers in the US in October 2022.
With some UHC plans, such as the AARP program described below, OTC hearing aids have now been made available for purchase. Some of the top brands, including Jabra Enhance Plus, Lexie B2, powered by Bose, and enhancement devices like the Sennheiser ConC400, with pricing and discounts varying by plan.
UHC AARP Hearing Program
UnitedHealthcare is partnering with AARP to offer AARP Hearing Solutions, making it more convenient and affordable for millions of Americans to purchase prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. AARP members can now buy prescription hearing aids through UnitedHealthcare Hearing at a starting price of $699 per hearing aid, which includes support from licensed professionals and personalized assistance.
Additionally, AARP members have access to exclusive pricing on OTC hearing aids from top brands, offering a convenient option for self-diagnosed mild-to-moderate hearing loss without the need for in-person appointments.
As part of the program, which is available to people even if they don’t have UnitedHealthcare insurance, AARP members will gain access to:
- 20% off prescription hearing aids from the industry’s top brands
- A 15% discount on hearing care products, such as hearing accessories and assistive listening devices
- Access to exclusive pricing on OTC hearing aids
- A no-cost hearing test, hearing aid consultation and personalized support through a nationwide network of hearing providers
- Convenient virtual care and direct delivery options provided through Jabra Enhance.
- One year of follow-up care included at no additional cost
- A 60-day money-back guarantee and four-year manufacturer warranty
- A three-year supply of hearing aid batteries ($100 value) or a charging case ($199 value) at no additional cost with each prescription hearing aid purchase
UnitedHealthcare Expands Hearing Aid Coverage in 2024 Medicare Advantage Plans
UnitedHealthcare has announced enhancements to hearing aid benefits in their 2024 Medicare Advantage plans. Key updates include:
- Expanded device coverage – More than 2,000 hearing aids and devices will be covered, including new over-the-counter (OTC) options. This is a significant expansion compared to original Medicare which does not cover hearing aids.
- Reduced copays – Hearing aid copays will start at $99 per device and go up to $1249
- National network access – UnitedHealthcare offers one of the largest national hearing provider and retailer networks, giving members broad access to obtain devices and care.
The improved hearing benefits are part of UnitedHealthcare’s focus on providing stable benefits that matter most to members in areas not covered by original Medicare like vision, dental, and hearing. For 2024, UnitedHealthcare worked to expand covered hearing devices and reduce copays to increase the value of the hearing benefit. Members will have more options to get hearing aids at significant cost savings.
UnitedHealthcare Hearing Benefit Changes Announced for 2024
UnitedHealthcare has announced several updates to their hearing aid coverage that will take effect in 2024. Here are some notable changes consumers should be aware of:
- Extended service plans beyond the included follow-up care may be offered at the provider’s standard rates. This allows consumers to purchase additional care and maintenance beyond what their plan may cover.
- The virtual care program is ending, but OTC hearing aids are now covered. Consumers can use their benefit for either an OTC or traditional prescription hearing aid.
- For children ages 0-18, a 5-year warranty is included plus a free accessory. This enhanced pediatric benefit provides added value.
- Loaner hearing aids may be offered while repairs are needed. Providers can charge their standard fees for loaners with patient consent.
- Mobile providers cannot charge extra for travel without consent. This protects consumers from surprise mobile service fees.
In summary, changes for 2024 are focused on updating provider policies and fees, while the consumer-facing benefits like OTC device coverage and pediatric offerings are expanded. Consumers are advised to review changes with their provider to see how they may be impacted.
Trial Period, Returns & Exchanges
According to the company, all Relate home delivered devices offer a 70-day trial period, which starts the day of the shipment. All other devices’ 45-day trial period starts from the date of the fitting appointment with a licensed professional.
Returns or exchanges may only be accepted during the trial period. Earmolds cannot be returned or exchanged. For Exchange requests, UnitedHealthcare Hearing will contact the member to collect any out of pocket price difference and will send a new authorization to order the new hearing aids.
**PLEASE NOTE: HHTM IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH UNITED HEALTHCARE. IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT THE UHC HEARING WEBSITE HERE.**