The price of healthcare in the U.S. is the highest in the world. Yet, we as a nation are not getting our money's worth when it comes to affordable health care — far from it. Many folks blame the high prices charged by doctors and hospitals as the heart of the problem. They have a point. Until recently, less scrutinized was the role insurance companies play in spiking our health care bills, as well as their profits, in their role as the intermediaries between patients and those providers.
Adding insult to injury are all those things that private medical insurance does not cover. Consider the following example. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it affects nearly 48 million people in this country. Its onset can begin as early as in our 20s, but most people will either be unaware of it, or in denial of it. The World Health Organization warned in 2015 that 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults around the globe are at risk for developing this condition.
This is a condition linked to many other conditions, such as cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease, clinical depression, diabetes, heart disease, anemia, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, sleep apnea and more. Yet it is not officially considered a disability. If it were, it would rank as the largest disability class in the country.
I am talking about hearing loss. The fact that hearing loss is a highly prevalent and chronic condition is beyond dispute. Though most policies will cover a hearing exam, hearing aids — a required treatment for this disability — continue to be viewed as an "elective" and therefore not covered by most private medical insurance. In most instances, Medicare does not cover hearing aids. Insurers continue to view hearing aids as an elective similar to plastic surgery or liposuction. Despite the fact that, unlike those cosmetic procedures, life without hearing can produce devastating effects.
As to the biggest part of this injustice, the needed devices are expensive. Hearing aids can cost roughly $1,000 to $3,500 per ear. According to audiologists, on average, a quality hearing aid might last no more than five years before needing to be replaced.
It is no wonder that studies show that an estimated 75 percent to 80 percent of adults with hearing loss do not get hearing aids. According to a 2011 AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons) report, the average person is more likely to get a colonoscopy (58 percent) than a hearing test (43 percent). The result is people will wait too long to get the help they need, many as long as 15 years before seeking help. A study by the Division of Audiology of the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit revealed that the only group in their study that consistently got hearing aids had insurance that paid for them in full.
At the crux of the denial of hearing loss is the stigma attached to hearing aids. People see them as a symbol of old age. People will try to tough it out and bluff — pretend to understand what's going on or being said when they don't have a clue. Such acting can lead to embarrassing or mentally taxing situations. It can even ultimately cause an individual to withdraw from social activities and from a healthy communicative lifestyle.
When the health care industry refers to "payers" they are referring to insurance companies or government programs like Medicare. Let us not forget that patients fund the entire health care industry through taxes, insurance premiums and cash payments. Even the portion paid by employers comes out of an employee's compensation.
It is time for the medical community to start treating hearing loss as the serious medical condition it is; one with broad health implications. The U.S. population has changed substantially in the last half century and one of the most prominent demographic changes relates to age and the graying of America. Hearing loss is already considered the most widespread disabling condition in the U.S. As this next generation reaches 65, hearing loss is expected to affect one out of every three people. Age-related hearing loss is not a benign consequence of aging. Research clearly points to associations between hearing loss and other chronic conditions.
Some reform does seem to be on the horizon in the form of the Food and Drug Administration Reauthorization Act of 2017. This legislation includes the Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act designed to provide greater public accessibility and affordability from lower-cost, over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. The Act is designed to enable adults with perceived mild-to-moderate hearing loss to access OTC hearing aids without being seen by a hearing care professional. It mandates the Food and Drug Administration to establish an OTC hearing aid category for adults with "perceived" mild-to-moderate hearing loss within three years of passage of the legislation.
Before turning to do-it-yourself care, know that what level of safety, labeling, and consumer protections will be included with over-the-counter hearing aids is currently being hotly debated. At odds are the Consumer Technology Association and Hearing Industries Association, two interest groups with very different objectives in mind.
If you are suffering hearing loss (or someone says you are suffering hearing loss), do not hold off waiting for potential pricing reform. See an accredited Audiologist. Such visits are generally covered in most health care plans. A hearing problem might be caused by something that a hearing aid will not address, like wax buildup, which an audiologist can diagnose.
"Like a thumb print, every ear and hearing loss is unique," Brandon Sawalich Chairman of the Hearing Industries Association writes in the political website The Hill. "The greater the degree of hearing loss, (moderate, severe and profound), the greater the need for the services of a hearing professional to properly evaluate the hearing impairment, select the proper hearing aid for their loss, and provide patient education, care, counseling and service."
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.