Hearing Health From a Public Health Perspective
A Consumer View
Hearing loss is a primary health concern in the U.S. and that loss of hearing – gradual, mild or severe, congenital or acquired in older age – can have significant effects on one's communication abilities, quality of life, social participation and health. (NAS, June 2016)
The nation turns to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) for independent, objective advice on issues that affect people’s lives worldwide. On June 2, 2016, the NAS released their historic study on Hearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Access and Affordability. HLAA was the only consumer-group sponsor of the study along with several federal agencies.
The overarching message of that study was that hearing loss is a major public health concern, something HLAA has been saying for many years. The study provides 12 recommendations to improve the state of hearing health care. HLAA’s work moving forward dovetails well with the recommendations of NAS.
The NAS study cuts right to the heart of the hearing health care – the person with hearing loss. The study highlights the challenges in everyday life that can be attributed to hearing loss, such as communication on and off the job, social interactions, and functional abilities that have serious public health implications for adults of all ages. Because of the complex interactions of people and their environments, there must be a personalized approach to hearing health care. It stresses that hearing loss is a primary health concern and hearing loss – be it gradual or acute, mild or severe, present at birth or acquired later in life – can have significant effects on health, independence, well-being, quality of life, and daily function as well as on everyday communication.
Many People Don’t Seek Care
Despite hearing loss impacting lives in negative ways, many people still do not seek or receive care. Some reasons stated in the NAS study are:
- Hearing health care is not affordable; for example, hearing aids are not covered by Medicare and most insurance companies
- Services are difficult to access
- Some people have trouble getting past the stigma of wearing hearing aids, while others don't know they need hearing aids because their hearing loss has been gradual
- Hearing loss is often not screened for or discussed in primary health care visits
What Happens Now?
The NAS report makes 12 recommendations pointing to key institutional, technological and regulatory changes. HLAA, along with the other study sponsors, will work to make these recommendations reality. Some have already seen progress such as Recommendation #3 to remove the FDA regulations for medical evaluation or waiver. While they have not removed the regulation, the FDA has already decided not to enforce to medical evaluation requirement for hearing aids. Recommendation #7, to create a new category of over-the-counter hearing aids is being considered by the FDA and legislation has been introduced to create this new category.
Other recommendations can take a long time with some requiring either legislation or cultural changes. For example, Recommendation #9 calls for Medicare coverage for hearing aids which will require a lengthy process to change legislation. HLAA will continue working toward the implementation of all the recommendations, no matter how long it will take. In fact, HLAA is taking the lead on Recommendation #11: Improve Publicly Available Information on Hearing Health Care.
Join HLAA today and be part of the organization that represents the interests of consumers. This is an exciting time in history to make sure that hearing health care is part of overall good health.