To the editor: Have you or someone you know experienced hearing loss? Did an audiologist recommend that you get hearing aids? Were you shocked to discover that hearing aids cost from $2,000 to $6,000? Were you surprised to find out that your health insurance plan, if you had one, didn’t cover hearing aids? Did you struggle to pay for the hearing aids, or decide not to get them because of the expense?
Hearing loss affects people of all ages. Multiple studies conducted by the National Academy of Sciences indicate that hearing loss is a public health issue. And it can be treated with hearing aids. The ability to hear determines your quality of life while in school, the work force and later in life. In older Vermonters, hearing aids have been shown to reduce falls, improve memory, slow the progress of dementia and curb social isolation.
In Vermont, an estimated 17 percent of the population suffers from hearing loss. Yet according to the Hearing Loss Association of America, Vermont is the only state in New England that does not require state-regulated insurance carriers to cover hearing aids. House Bill 266 was introduced this year in the Vermont legislature to rectify the problem, as similar bills have been in the past. It seemed to many that this might finally be the year that insurance carriers would be legally required to cover hearing aids. But achieving that common sense step is apparently more complicated than it first seemed.
H.266 remains in the House Health Care Committee. It didn’t make the deadline to be sent to the Senate for further work, so passage this year is doubtful, though it may still be added to another bill and passed. If not, this being the first year of the two-year legislative biennium, H.266 could be taken up next year. If you think this bill is as important as I do, please contact your local representative or senator to ask them to support H.266. I also urge you to think about why a specific, narrow law is required to make insurance companies cover something as common and necessary as hearing aids. If health care was treated as human right, this patchwork of insurance policies and laws would be unnecessary. We would — and should — have a system that provides what people need without having to beg for it.
Bennington, April 4