WASHINGTON, D.C. — After months of deliberations and negotiations, the House of Representatives passed an amended version of the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376) that includes several hearing-related provisions that would impact Medicare patients and providers, if ultimately enacted.
The bill would add coverage of treatment services provided by audiologists—for the first time in the program’s history—and reclassify audiologists as practitioners adding them to the list of providers eligible to furnish services via telehealth.
The American Academy of Audiology (AAA), the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), and American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) have championed these provisions as part of the Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act (H.R. 1587/S. 1731). These efforts have focused on ensuring that audiologists are able to provide the full range of services under Medicare that they are educated, trained, and licensed to provide.
Improvements Sought in Senate
While AAA, ADA, and ASHA are pleased that these provisions have been included—a major victory for audiologists—the organizations indicate that they are disappointed that the bill does not remove the physician order requirement for coverage of diagnostic audiology services, which is essential for beneficiary access.
H.R. 5376 also includes provisions to add hearing aid dispensers as ‘qualified hearing aid professionals’ eligible to provide hearing assessment services, as allowed by state licensure, subject to any additional requirements determined by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, including those relating to educational certification or accreditation.
AAA, ADA, and ASHA have stated that they are working with congressional staff to make recommendations to differentiate hearing aid dispensers and define hearing aid dispensing services in a manner congruent with state licensure.
The bill also includes the following hearing related provisions:
- Coverage of hearing aids for individuals with moderately severe to profound hearing loss in one or both ears once every five years if furnished through a written order by a physician, audiologist, or other practitioner for devices that are determined appropriate by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services
- Exclusion of hearing aids from competitive bidding when furnished by a physician or other practitioner to their own patients as part of a professional service
“While AAA, ADA, and ASHA are pleased with many of the provisions of this legislation, technical corrections are necessary to improve beneficiary access to audiology services, and to support consumer protection, transparency, competition, and patient choice. Our groups are working to provide assistance and offer these recommendations as this legislation now moves over for consideration in the Senate. We will provide further updates on these advocacy efforts as the legislative process continues to evolve.”
Source: ASHA, AAA, ADA
Readers may be interested in a recent discussion on Medicare hearing benefit expansion, and its impact on the industry, with Starkey CEO, Brandon Sawalich: