By David H. Kirkwood
WASHINGTON, DC–A coalition of 19 organizations concerned with hearing loss and other disabilities has called upon U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius to define coverage of hearing aids as an essential health benefit (EHB) nationwide
In their letter, e-mailed on January 31, the petitioners state, “The Affordable Care Act (ACA) explicitly required that the Secretary define essential health benefits to include items and services in the category of rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices.” Yet, the letter continues, the Essential Health Benefits Bulletin of December 16, 2011, “fails to provide coverage for rehabilitative devices, like hearing aids, despite the specific language of the law.”
The letter, which appears in full this week at Hearing Views along with the list of signatories, asks HHS “to amend its approach to explicitly require coverage of properly fitted hearing aids in the EHB in each state.”
In arguing for coverage of hearing aids, the signatories write, “Hearing aids are an essential component of healthcare coverage for millions of Americans. They are essential to employment opportunities and improving quality of life for individuals with hearing loss. In addition, the healthcare reform law explicitly contemplates these types of devices.”
ACCESS FOR ALL
Janice Schacter Lintz, who helped organize the effort to require coverage of hearing aids, told Hearing News Watch why access to the devices is so important. “Anyone who can hear with hearing aids and wants them should have access to hear. Hearing aids should not be the new status symbol for the rich. ”
Schacter Lintz, who is chair of the Hearing Access Program, said, “We need to ensure that people do not have to stop working because they cannot afford hearing aids. This defies common sense.”
What’s the next step for the coalition? Schacter Lintz said, “We hope to meet with Secretary Sebelius, Congressional Members, and Senators to discuss why hearing aid coverage is critical.”
ASHA SIGNS, AAA PASSES
The list of organizations whose leaders addressed the HHS Secretary is a diverse one, including advocacy organizations for the hard of hearing, such as the Hearing Loss Association of America and the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Also taking part were organizations that advocate for other consumer groups, such as Little People of America and Pennsylvania Council of the Blind.
The organizers had to scramble to meet the deadline for writing to Sebelius, and some possible supporters of their cause were not contacted, including the International Hearing Society and the Academy of Doctors of Audiology. However, the two largest national organizations of audiologists were asked to sign. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association decided to join the coalition, while the American Academy of Audiology (AAA), which received an invitation just before the deadline opted not to.
In a letter declining the invitation, Therese Walden, AuD, president of AAA, noted that the issue of universal coverage was not a new one for the academy. The AAA board and staff and its Government Relations Committee and Coding and Reimbursement Committees had thoroughly vetted the issue.
Based on that, Walden wrote, “We do not believe this petition is in the best interest of our members (the professionals) nor the patients we serve. By requiring CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] and other third-party payers to cover hearing aids and other treatment services, it will severely limit the professional’s input into the care and management and it will in all likelihood result in reductions of the services/care outlined in the petition.”
She concluded, “We recognize your position on this issue and that you are responding to the needs of your members, just as are we. There is truly no easy solution to all of this.”