A new Illinois law requires insurance companies to cover the cost of hearing aids for seniors.
House Bill 3503 requires “coverage for hearing instruments and related services for all individuals 65 years of age and older when a hearing care professional prescribes a hearing instrument.”
The law goes into effect Jan. 1 after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed it.
Ed O'Brien, a board member of the Hearing Loss Association of America Illinois Cochlear Implant Chapter, previously used hearing aids. He said he has seen seniors struggle to afford hearing aids. The new law could help, he said.
“Seniors typically have less money to spend because they're not working, so they tend to not get the hearing aids because they can't afford them, so I would applaud that type of change,” O’Brien said.
According to the bill, there are some restrictions for providing coverage of hearing instruments.
“An insurer shall not be required to pay a claim if the insured filed such a claim 24 months prior to the date of filing the claim with the insurer and the claim was paid by any insurer,” the bill states.
The bill requires coverage of up to $2,500 per hearing aid every two years. According to a 2015 report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a single hearing aid costs $2,300 on average.
O'Brien said insurance plans haven’t covered hearing aids in the past, but plans have covered the surgical hearing implant known as cochlear.
“A cochlear implant is considered a medical device because it operates by surgery where they implant electronics,” O’Brien said. “Because it’s implanted in the brain, that requires surgery. That, of course, makes it eligible for insurance.”
O’Brien said he previously relied on hearing aids, but now uses a cochlear implant.
“If hearing aids are not effective because you have trouble understanding the speech or it's a muddy signal, the cochlear implant is the next step to correct that,” O’Brien said. “It's very successful and that has been going on for about 25 years."
O’Brien said seniors who want to get a cochlear implant are often required to first try a hearing aid for six months and demonstrate that it doesn’t work.
“That's a shame because the cochlear implant is covered by insurance, but the hearing aid is not,” O’Brien said. “Even though these people are clearly qualified for a cochlear implant, they're sent back because they can't afford to get the hearing aid and wear it for six months to prove that it doesn't work.”